EV and PV: A Cleantech Peanut Butter Cup

Electric Vehicles (EVs) and solar (PV) go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Aside from the obvious health and environmental benefits, including reducing climate change pollution and cleaning up the air we breathe, they are empowering customers to participate in our electricity system like never before. In other words, these technologies are working together to democratize energy.

Solar power panels charge a plug in hybrid car

In California and other leading solar markets, grid operators are raising concerns that someday there’ll be times when there is more solar electricity being generated than demand to absorb it. This may eventually occur during cooler spring or fall months when sunshine is abundant, but people aren’t using much electricity. This problem sounds like a good one to have—and one that is still very much a future issue—but it is still making some utility engineers reach for the Excedrin.

We at Vote Solar, along with many other energy wonks, view this as an entirely manageable situation. Energy storage, demand response, regional energy markets that allow utilities to buy and sell energy more freely, enhanced energy efficiency and many other tools are, or soon will be available to grid operators to manage this wondrous dilemma.

This gets us back to the EV-PV connection. EVs need electricity to run. If there’s an over-abundance of solar energy (the thought of which still sends my salivary glands into overdrive), what better way to “fuel” those vehicles than with plentiful power from the sun? So instead of charging all those EVs at night, we could soak up the extra solar generation by encouraging EV owners to charge their vehicles during the middle of a sunny spring day. That allows a lot more customers to go solar without concerns about “too much” clean energy on the grid. Insert your own image of flowers blooming, birds chirping and bees buzzing here.

But the love flows both ways—solar helps us get more EVs on the road, too. As more fleets convert to electric and more public and workplace charging stations enabling daytime plug-ins, generators will need to provide gobs of power in hotter months when the transmission and distribution grids will be strained to the max. But installing local solar to power fleet, public and workplace charging stations can reduce the strain on the grid.

Now, if you add enough stationary energy storage to this mix, you’ve pretty much solved any concerns about grid reliability and enabled a lot more clean energy and clean vehicles to be deployed. As the price of energy storage comes down as expected, more and more customers will be able to combine PV, EVs and storage. Imagine charging your energy storage device at home with your rooftop solar system, then using all that pollution-free energy to charge your pollution-free EV in the evening. Sounds too good to be true, you say? It’s already happening in San Francisco where 68 apartment buildings in the City by the Bay are being outfitted with solar PV, EV charging and battery storage (check out the stories in Greentech Media and SFGate). Now that’s pretty cool.

There’s a lot more to do to put all of this into place, and getting everything to work together right efficiently and cost-effectively is a challenge. But rest assured, we and our clean energy compadres are on the case. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has several active proceedings to figure out how all of this should work together. Sometime in the spring of 2015, the CPUC will issue decisions on several pilot program proposals for EV charging infrastructure from the state’s major utilities, and then continue to hammer out the details on rules, tariffs and incentives to encourage EV owners to participate in grid support programs. And by July, each utility will have to submit Distribution Resource Plans for the very first time. These plans will identify distribution circuits on the grid that can most benefit from more local clean resources such as rooftop solar and grid-connected EVs. Vote Solar is active in each of these proceedings, so check back for updates in the near future.

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