A Big Week For Reshaping the Electric Grid with EVs

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EV programs may soon come to a grid near you as states continue to expand and refine charging efforts. Here’s a look at some big moves this week in California, Massachusetts and New York.

EV programs

By Lightspring/Shutterstock.com

Massachusetts okays one of largest EV programs

In Massachusetts, the state Department of Public Utilities on September 10 okayed a $25 million charging program offered by National Grid, an electric utility with 1.3 million customers in the state. (D.P.U. 17-13)

The initiative is one of the largest EV programs approved outside of California, according to Noah Garcia, clean energy advocate, clean vehicles and fuels for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Over three years, the utility plans to install up to 600 Level 2 stations at 120 sites and up to 80 direct current fast chargers at 20 sites. The program focuses on installations for workplaces, disadvantaged communities, muli-unit swellings, non-profits and public entities.

National Grid’s program is the second major utility EV charging program in Massachusetts. Last year state regulators okayed a similar $45 million effort by Eversource, which serves 1.4 million electric customers.

Massachusetts is one of a group of states that in 2013 agreed to put at least 3.3 million zero-emission on the road by 2025.  The push for EVs comes as the state tries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 25 percent from all sectors of its economy by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050.

In seeking approval of cost recovery, National Grid argued that the charging market needs a utility kickstart; otherwise the state will not meet its 2025 EV goals. The state granted approval under rules that require utilities prove EV programs are in the public interest, do not hinder the competitive EV charging market, and serve needs the market is unlikely to meet.

Under National Grid’s plan, the utility will own electric distribution equipment associated with the charging stations, but hosts will own the chargers. The host will choose the equipment from a list of vendors prequalified by the utility. The utility intends to offer rebates for the equipment.

EVs are increasingly seen as a way to help manage energy use on the grid with batteries acting as a resource when electric demand is high. National Grid does not plan to initially use the charging stations this way, but will study time-of-use rates and demand response as part of the program.

The NRDC’s Garcia praised the program, but noted that he would have preferred to see National Grid do more with demand response.

 “With demand response you are using EVs as grid assets…” — Noah Garcia

“Demand response provides customers opportunities to shift load in response to a signal,” he said. “If EVs are charging at peak times, a utility can issue a signal asking for less EV charging to better align supply and demand. With demand response you are using EVs as grid assets that support the flexibility and reliability of the grid.”

In its decision, the DPU sided with the utility, which said it needs time to collect data and information before it can design EV-related demand response programs.

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New York: smarter, bigger vehicle charging

Additional efforts to support the grid with EV programs are underway in New York, where the state Public Service Commission expanded an existing Consolidated Edison smart-charging incentives program to include customers who charge medium- and heavy-duty EVs during off-peak hours.

Before the order, the program applied to light-duty passenger EVs. The move will help more drivers save money, and will help utilities manage the grid.

“Expanding the SmartCharge NY Program should facilitate significant carbon reduction and local air pollution benefits as the predominantly diesel-fueled medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are replaced by low- and zero-emitting EVs,” said the order, Case Number 16-E-0060.

The goal of the program is to look at EV customers’ reactions to rebates that encourage off-peak charging of light-duty passenger EVs. Customers get a device that allows the company to monitor the location and charging status of the vehicles.

Participants receive a $150 enrollment incentive, $25 for installing the equipment, and $25 for referring other customers to sign up. Additional incentives aim to ensure customers continue to participate.

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Participants also get $5 per month and a $0.05 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) rebate on all EV charging during off-peak hours. They can earn an additional $20 per month during the months of June through September if they do not charge enrolled EVs during weekday on-peak hours.

Some of the parties in the case said the program doesn’t go far enough.

“Although Greenlots and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) express their support for the company’s petition, both parties propose further actions to incentivize use of medium- and heavy-duty EVs,” said the order. “Greenlots encourages the development of future charging programs that could provide even greater grid benefits for EV owners, and customers as a whole, by functioning more dynamically in the manner of utility demand response programs.”

MTA wanted the commission to expand incentives to EVs beyond the SmartCharge NY program and asked Con Edison and other parties to create off-peak EV charging tariffs that reduce rates based on system peak demand benefits, as well as environmental benefits, said the order.

California advances toward 5 million ZEVs
EV programs

California Gov. Brown signs EV bill aboard hybrid electric ferry. Photo Courtsey of governor’s press office

Meanwhile, in Californa Gov. Jerry Brown on September 13 signed eight bills to reduce emissons from transportation, while aboard a new hybrid electric ferry in the San Francisco Bay. Among them are AB 2127,  which gives the California Energy Commission authority to assess the need for charging infrastructure. The bill  supports California’s goal of putting five million zero emissions vehicles on the road by 2030.

“Whether we travel by car, bus, or boat the need to move to zero-emission transportation is urgent. These bills will help get more clean cars on the road and reduce harmful emissions,” said Gov. Brown said at the signing.

Transportation accounts for approximately 50 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and about 80 percent of smog-forming pollutants, according to a news release issued by Brown’s office.

Also in  California, the Monterey Bay Air Resources District (MBARD) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) said they are working to install Envision Solar International’s solar-powered DC fast-charging system at two Caltrans Safety Roadside Rest Areas.

The move is a response to a state order, B-48-18, calling for the state and government agencies to work with the private sector to promote the construction of 250,000 chargers, including 10,000 DC fast chargers, by 2025, said a press release from Envision Solar.

Solar fast chargers provide important advantages, according to Envision Solar. Rest areas generally don’t have enough energy available for fast charging stations. The company’s solar units are self-contained and don’t need electrical upgrades. They can be installed in a day, the company said in a press release. The units include batteries that allow for charging at night.

A balancing act
microgrid bill

By buffaloboy/Shutterstock.com

Many of the efforts to support the grid with EVs aim to reduce the EV charging load during peak hours. In addition to solar charging and smart charging, fleets of batteries can help manage demand on the grid and stabilize intermittent flows of renewable energy.

To that end, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has provided about $400,000 in funding to Tritium, which makes advanced DC fast chargers, to work with other companies to develop a system for high-powered charging with a DC connection to the medium-voltage grid, according to a press release this week from Tritium. The aim of the project is to provide for charging multiple EVs at “extreme” levels while protecting the grid’s infrastructure.

Such management and balancing may become a lot more important now, with another new California bill signed into law this week requiring that all of state’s electricity come from zero-carbon sources by 2045. Hawaii has a similar law and other states are considering like moves.

So while this was a big week for EV programs, expect many more.

Elisa Wood contributed to this article.

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