From Gas to Grid: How and Where to Build Charging Infrastructure

From Gas to Grid: How and Where to Build Charging Infrastructure

This piece was originally published in the January 2018 issue of electroindustry.

Excerpted with permission from Gas to Grid: Building Charging Infrastructure to Power Electric Vehicle Demand[1]

The electric vehicle (EV) revolution is here. We should not allow the fact that EV sales in 2016 were only about 1 percent of total light-duty vehicle sales in the United States to lull us into a false sense of complacency. There could be 2.9 million EVs on the road in the U.S. within five years, bringing over 11,000 GWh of load to the U.S. power grid, or about $1.5 billion in annual electricity sales.[2]

Sticker prices, model options, and range anxiety have long been impediments to EV adoption, but those barriers are set to fall within a few years. Several models already can go more than 200 miles on a single charge. EVs already are cheaper to refuel, and in some cases, such as with high-usage fleet vehicles, they are cheaper to own than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles.

The cost to fuel an EV varies significantly depending on where the vehicle is charged, what type of charger is used, and the utility powering the charger. Where and when EV owners will refuel their vehicles depends largely on where charging infrastructure is installed and the prices that owners encounter, which can vary widely.

The world doesn’t need any more cost-benefit analyses; they’ve already been done, and they show that vehicle electrification has numerous benefits for drivers, utilities, communities, and society as a whole.

What we need now is to understand how and where to build charging infrastructure, and then start building it.

The path that a given utility or state might take to vehicle electrification will vary according to several fundamental factors, such as the regulatory environment, incentives, driving patterns, the grid power generation mix, load patterns on the local grid, climate and social objectives, and various costs.

Passive management techniques, such as time-of-use tariffs, offer a simple and easily implemented way for utilities to use the charging load of EVs to provide dynamic, real-time grid regulation services and to provide a flexible load to meet supply. By using EVs to absorb excess solar and wind, utilities can avoid curtailment of those generators, increase their share of the total electricity supply, and possibly displace or avoid the need for conventional fossil-fueled generation. Utilities can realize these benefits starting now, with each new EV that appears on their grids.

Our message is clear and simple: Building EV charging infrastructure should be an urgent priority in all states and major municipalities. Getting it right will require unprecedented cooperation by many stakeholder groups. The time to act is now.

[1] Garrett Fitzgerald and Chris Nelder, From Gas to Grid: Building Charging Infrastructure to Power Electric Vehicle Demand, Rocky Mountain Institute, September 2017, https://www.rmi.org/insights/reports/from_gas_to_grid.

[2] Assumes U.S. EV sales growth of 32% per year, 13,500 miles/year, 3.5 mi/kWh, and $0.132/kWh


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