Electric Utilities Brace for Launch of EVs

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With the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt slated for launch in December, car manufacturers and regulators are scrambling to build intelligent charging systems that help consumers schedule charging during off-peak hours.

“Off peak charging” was the mantra of Pedro Pizarro, the executive vice president of power operations for Southern California Edison during a panel that also included executives from Nissan, GM and Ford at the Green:Net 2010 conference in San Francisco. Pizarro said SCE anticipates between 150,000 – 1,000,000 EVs in its service area by 2020.

Because each EV represents the power demand equivalent to one half of a typical household and early adopters are likely to be clustered together, SCE is preparing for demand spikes on a block-by-block basis. “If you have a block with three or four Priuses, that’s probably an early adopter neighborhood,” Pizarro said.

With adoption patterns hard to predict, SoCal Edison is working to reduce the time it takes to upgrade transformers so they can respond rapidly as EVs start to roll into neighborhoods later this year.

SoCal Edison plans to use price incentives and consumer education to encourage off peak charging, which is especially important from an environmental perspective. When additional power is demanded during peak times, it is generated from sources that emit higher levels of pollution. Pizarro pointed out that peak demand is twice the amount of average use, and thus there is plenty of capacity for EVs as long as they are plugged in during off-peak times.

According to Dian Grueneich, Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission, regulators are making policy changes that anticipate the emergence of the smart grid. As an example, she cited a policy change issued by the CPUC on April 8 ensuring open access to price and usage data that will be necessary for 3rd party vendors to build devices that can optimize usage in accordance with time based rate structures.

What about charging EVs when you’re away from home? Since rapid-charge systems will take as much as 30 minutes to recharge the typical EV battery and standard charging systems will take much longer, charging stations could represent a new opportunity for entrepreneurs who want to sell products or services to early EV adopters. Mark Perry, director of product planning and strategy for Nissan North America, suggested that retail businesses might be happy to offer free charging stations as a way to entice people to spend more time in their stores.

Hugh McDermott of Palo Alto-based Better Place presented an alternative vision – battery-swapping stations that would enable EV drivers to replace depleted batteries during a short pit stop. Earlier this month Better Place launched a switchable-battery electric taxi project in Tokyo.

Much is at stake with the way EVs are brought to market. Mass adoption of EVs has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions. According to Steve Jurvetson, managing partner of the VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, EV vehicles are 45 percent efficient, compared with 15 percent efficiency among combustion vehicles.

It isn’t clear whether the leading EV manufacturers will embrace the vision of switchable batteries. When pressed on this point by moderator Josie Garthwaite, the panelists from Nissan, Ford and GM did not offer a definitive answer.

Article by Wylie Sawyer appearing courtesy Matter Network.

Photo: bisgovuk

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