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EV Does It

The results of the 2012 Black & Veatch “Strategic Directions in the U.S. Electric Utility Industry Report” were released recently with plenty of media attention.

Most of the headlines focused on findings surrounding our country’s future with coal (or lack thereof). Only 58 percent of utility executives said coal’s future is bright – that’s compared to 82 percent just one year ago.

And while this outlook is certainly newsworthy, other findings from the study are just as important. One particularly high-profile issue addressed by the survey is the potential impact of electric vehicles (EVs) on the generation market.

Sure, EVs are four times more efficient than gas-powered cars. Yes, if powered by renewable resources, EVs could produce zero emissions. All wonderful and incredibly important. In fact, a majority of study respondents indicated they’re willing to fund some actions to accelerate market penetration of EVs and natural gas vehicles (NGVs). Great news indeed.

Yet while EVs are a critical component to a clean energy future, the study also identified the need for significant planning and potentially even organizational changes to pursue EV development. For instance, most utilities do not have people dedicated to or experienced with, studying the impact of electric vehicles on the distribution system.

Meeting the Load Challenge

Over the past several years, Xcel Energy has participated in a number of studies to better understand the impact of EVs on our system, including several conductor, fuse and transformer load studies.

Why load studies? Well, EVs carry a significant “charge” on the system, no pun intended. For perspective, an average household uses about 7,500 kWh of energy a year, with average peak demand of 3.5kW. Park an EV in the garage, and the numbers increase significantly – nearly 3,000 additional kWh annually and more than double the kW load. On a house-by-house basis, load problems are minimal. But consider the projected growth of EVs in the years to come, and changes will need to be made.

The results of our initial studies have already led to new practices and program offerings. For instance, we are now coordinating with auto manufacturers to determine where and when EVs are purchased. By comparing that information with past load data, we can better anticipate load implications.

We also have introduced a demand response pilot in Colorado. Similar to our popular Saver’s Switch program, customers can have a monitor installed near the home’s panel/charging station. During peak periods, we are able to cut the power to the charging station, if needed.

In Minnesota, we have instituted a Time of Day rate for residential customers who own an EV to encourage off-peak charging.

These studies, along with other fleet and energy corridor pilots we have spearheaded, are helping to tackle the many challenges we face, while also helping to shape our clean energy future. The ultimate goal? Encourage the ongoing deployment of EVs and the establishment of a charging station infrastructure to fit our customer’s needs for years to come.

Article by Tim Laughlin, appearing courtesy Xcel Energy Blog.