Electric Vehicles and the Grid—What needs to happen?

The Advanced Grid Institute (AGI) brought together colleagues from state and federal agencies, utilities, industry, national laboratories, and academia for a day of lively panel discussions and presentations at the annual AGI Industry Day. One of those panels was “Electric Vehicles and the Grid,” a lively discussion on the status and barriers to electrifying vehicles and meeting state and federal goals.

Panel speakers included Deborah Reynolds from Washington State Department of Commerce, Julie Peacock, advisor at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and Phillip B. Jones, executive director of the Alliance for Transportation Electrification.

Today, transportation is the largest source of green house gas emissions. To reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and slow the effects of climate change, the transportation sector is striving for decarbonization through vehicle electrification. The national goal by 2030 is to make half of new vehicles sold electric, with some states having more ambitious goals, such as Washington state which aims to have all light-duty vehicles sold and purchased be electric by 2030.

So, what are the challenges? Jones summarized supply chain issues, pricing, consumer awareness, range anxiety, and lack of infrastructure as the top challenges today.

In addition, environmental regulations are now heavily driving vehicle electrification in the medium and heavy-duty space, creating major challenges in developing infrastructure quick enough.

“The issue for utilities is load forecast. How do we know in advance where the load is going to come and when?” said Jones, “We face a potential mismatch between utility needs and medium and heavy-duty truck needs. We’re spending a lot of time learning granular level load casting to figure out where load will appear and to get ready for it.”

Reynolds spoke to the audience about the Washington Electric Vehicle Council’s draft Transportation Electrification Strategy (TES). The TES was created with the input from Washington drivers and non-drivers, communities of different sizes, and people who represent diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Themes in the TES included rate design, charging infrastructure, consumer education and outreach, light-duty vehicles, medium-heavy vehicles, and more.

Reynolds focused on three critical recommendations made in the TES; The need for public facing capacity maps, an interconnection timeline for electric vehicle supply, and the need to co-locate renewable energy and battery storage with charging infrastructure.

 “We need to take advantage of all possible ways to smooth out the load,” said Reynolds. “We have to think differently about how to do this and what other resources we can use.”

Audience members chimed in with a question about security and the information that capacity maps may reveal.

Peacock described a new hosting capacity tool developed at PNNL that is currently being demoed. It serves as a guide for utility mapping using a red, yellow, green approach. “When you’re a developer figuring out where to go, if you had a map where you can say ‘the infrastructure is totally red here or green there’, it allows you to have early conversations with utilities without feeling around in the dark.”

Utilities can use the tool to share data, without sharing too detailed of information, and there is no timing concern on the data.

To wrap up the session, AGI Co-Director Noel Schulz asked a final question to the panelists, “Most of the people in audience are engineering researchers, students or faculty, what is one thing we can do to help the public with the challenges and opportunities we have in in the electric vehicle space in the Pacific Northwest?”

Reynolds responded, “The vehicle to grid response, how to manage charging, and how we get through this.”

Jones said, “A joint effort to educate people about how much electricity and transmission we are going to need to electrify transportation. [PNNL’s] system modeling and the work you do in the Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center is one of nations premier authorities in the grid and how much generation we need.”

Peacock added to Jones’ response with, “Not only how much is needed, but given the current regulatory process in order to site and build transmission, how long is that going to take.” I think the average person doesn’t understand the sheer amount of infrastructure we will need to develop to meet vehicle electrification goals,” she said. “It would be very eye opening.”

A recording of the session as well as shared slides are available on the AGI website.

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