How Microgrid Infrastructure Will Enable the Electrification of Transportation

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Schneider Electric’s Andy Haun explores the role microgrid infrastructure will have in the electrification of transportation. 

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Andy Haun, senior vice president and chief technology officer, microgrids, Schneider Electric

Not all that long ago, most people laughed at the idea that cars could run entirely on an electric charge, not to mention cars that could drive themselves. While it hasn’t happened overnight, there is no doubt the digital transformation of transportation is well underway. As electric vehicles (EV) become more affordable, they’re on track to make up nearly a third of new-car sales by the end of the next decade.

It’s not only efficiency-minded consumers looking to reduce their carbon footprint driving this boom; EV fleets – delivery and service vehicles, for example – will make up a sizeable portion of this market as the businesses that rely on them pursue cost and energy efficiencies.

Among the many trends driving this growth, energy efficiency, reducing CO2 emissions and cost savings are among the most influential. To achieve the promise of greener and more affordable transportation, the industry requires flexible energy systems, such as microgrids, to provide a reliable energy infrastructure for EV.

Enabling the EV economy

To truly enable the EV economy, charging infrastructure must be widespread and readily available. With few exceptions, many EV and hybrid vehicle owners today struggle to find plentiful charging stations in their workplaces and communities. To keep pace with current and future demand and relieve range anxiety for owners, EV charging stations should be developed in three key areas: along highways, at destination points, and near public transportation nodes like train stations and airports.

New infrastructures will need to be deployed in combination with grid edge technologies, such as decentralized energy resources and battery energy storage. For example, when utility support is not possible, microgrid infrastructure can fulfill the growing need for charging fleets and power stations. This decentralized infrastructure will allow the many different participants in the EV economy to capitalize on the flexibility of EVs while supporting the stability of the energy system.

Current EV charging infrastructure uses fossil fuels, but new energy solutions, including microgrid, photovoltaic (PV), and battery energy storage, need to be integrated to enable a more robust, widespread and greener energy infrastructure. But that’s not the only change required. This transformation necessitates rethinking the business model and pricing structure associated with the sale of energy.

Consider fleet operators. The standard business model assumes the cost of fuel for the fleet on a small scale, ongoing basis. However, moving to an electric fleet would require the development of EV charging systems, shifting the model to include a capital cost.

Fleet owners and operators are just one of many players actively pursuing this transformation, with each having their own unique needs and challenges associated with EV charging infrastructure.

  1. Participants– Consumers who want to own an EV to decrease their carbon footprint and save on rising gas prices are exploring EV in growing numbers. The scarcity of EV charging infrastructure in their homes, communities and the many destinations to which they travel is impeding adoption in the near term.
  2. EV manufacturers – EV manufacturers must electrify their sales center outlets to provide charging infrastructure on site to demonstrate and service their vehicles, but are not enabled for the power level needed to charge multiple vehicles.
  3. Charging station manufacturers/owners/operators – Charging station owners need to provide multiple charging points to service their customers, but they first need the answer for how the requisite power will be delivered to their charging station.
  4. Convenience store owners – Today, these locations serve their customers through fossil fuels delivered by gas pumps. They want to offer charging infrastructure and need electrical systems to provide adequate energy to support it.
  5. Parking garage operators – Some garages are already beginning to offer this service, but have limited infrastructure to expand. They need to find new electrification solutions to meet demand.
  6. Retail and commercial centers – Shopping malls, retail centers and commercial buildings are looking to add charging infrastructure for employees and customers.
  7. Fleet vehicle operators – Most fleets of delivery and service vehicles operate on fossil fuel. Owners are moving toward electrification of those fleets, but need to address range limitations and shift their current business models to accommodate the capital expense.
  8. Utilities – The EV market may be a savior of sorts for the utility because it offers a new, lucrative opportunity. Utility companies need help from utility commissioners to support the investment and pricing structure for EV charging and growing demand will help drive this discussion.
  9. Municipalities – Municipalities want to deploy EV charging infrastructure to increase the attractiveness of their towns and cities as sustainable destinations by -reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their communities. They need EV infrastructure in place to support the burgeoning demand. In those cases, utilities may have limited ability to deliver the needed power requiring an upgrade of electrical service to support the charging needs.

Only through a decentralized energy system, such as a microgrid using distributed energy resources along with connected utility assets, can we provide reliable EV charging infrastructure to support the new EV economy.

The time for EV infrastructure is now

All these constituents share a common problem: they need a reliable EV charging infrastructure, but for many reasons cannot rely solely on existing grid-supported model to provide it.

microgrid infrastructure

To truly enable the EV economy, charging infrastructure must be widespread and readily available. (Photo: by Lightspring/

Case in point, garage owners or convenience store operators may need to wait for the utility to bring the required service to them, putting them at a competitive disadvantage. For those sites too far away from the utility or businesses operating on a congested feeder, in order to get the necessary service, they’ll need island-based infrastructure, such us that provided by microgrid, to fulfill the need for quick installations of charging stations.

For the EV owner, accessing the required electrical infrastructure in their homes is relatively easy, but in cases where there are multiple EVs in a neighborhood, the feeder from the utility can’t serve all the EV charging needs. Addressing this issue isn’t a simple fix, as the utility doesn’t want to carry the cost to transform the old system to a new electrical system. This then becomes a community or town-level issue. At that point, it’s going to be quite some time before the needed changes are made.

What once seemed futuristic – the electrification of mobility – is now at hand. We need solutions that will provide the increased power infrastructure quickly and reliably. Only through a decentralized energy system, such as a microgrid using distributed energy resources along with connected utility assets, can we provide reliable EV charging infrastructure to support the new EV economy.

Andy Haun is senior vice president and chief technology officer, microgrids, at Schneider Electric

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