SEPA releases report to guide utilities EV planning

Published on October 18, 2019 by Nancy Dunham

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Utility companies must begin to seriously plan and implement energy supplies for electric vehicles (EVs) or other companies may provide the power for such cars and trucks.

That’s just one of the key points directed toward utilities in the just-released report “Preparing for an Electric Vehicle Future: How Utilities Can Succeed.” The 40-page report by the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) is a guide for utilities that want to ramp up for EV use. It also details how electric utilities can prepare for challenges, gain customer buy-in and minimize costs.

“I think that one of the things the report discusses is how if utilities don’t plan accordingly others might be happy to provide those services, said SEPA’s Erika Myers, principal, Transportation Electrification. “We are physically at a place where utilities aren’t guaranteed this new load.”

SEPA spearheaded the research, analysis and writing of the report due to the lack of vital information utilities need to prepare for EVs. They note this is a comprehensive guide that allows utilities to move ahead. National and state-level data show utilities have not made significant progress until this point, said Myers.

With forecasts of more than 20 million EVs on U.S. roads by 2030, the SEPA report builds the case for a strong utility role in transportation electrification. The analysis detailed in the report identifies opportunities for utilities to minimize infrastructure challenges, improve internal planning and forecasting methods, and provide best-in-class customer service.

“The number one thing we hope utilities will get out of this [report] is the understanding that they need to start including EVs into their integrated resource plans,” said Myers. “And we hope they do it [today and] in a way that is more sophisticated than they have in the past.”

The report includes plentiful examples of utilities that spearheaded creative solutions to supply EV power. Myers points out the section about Oncor Electric Delivery Co.’s EV planning, which she called “a great example of a proactive utility where fleets are located in service.”

The Dallas-based company proactively plans for EV fleet growth in its service territory. One key way is through the development of an Electric Vehicle Charging Planning Tool that allows the company to efficiently analyze substation capacity and provide customer feedback.

Oncor has a prime focus on common freight corridors in Texas, along I-35 and I-45 where an estimated 13 percent of U.S. freight traffic intersects, according to the report.

“If a significant amount of companies electrify even just a small number of EVs even as small as five to 10 vehicles per fleet — it could create an issue for distribution systems within the utility industry,” said David Treichler, director of Strategy and Technology for Oncor, in the report. “Utilities cannot afford to wait 10 years from now to address this issue.”

Electrifying fleets is one of the great challenges for electric utilities, but the report outlines ways that utilities can meet the needed requirements.

“Fleets are a big part of the motivation for utilities to become better engaged with their customers,” said Myers. “Companies may order one bunch of electric vehicles and may have future plans to buy more in two, three or four years. Rather than make separate investments over time, this shows utilities how to understand where customers are headed and make one investment instead.”

Other key messages to utilities include:

– EV adoption presents an opportunity for utilities to increase customer engagement and be seen as a champion of positive change.

– Utilities must streamline processes and organization structures and create new business models to support EV rollouts.

– Utilities need to plan to minimize grid impacts from an increasing number of megawatt-scale public, corridor, fleet, and private charging sites and invest in infrastructure planning to prepare for EV charging infrastructure grid upgrades.

– Right-sizing EV charging infrastructure is crucial to avoiding unnecessary project delays, cost, and grid impacts.

– Expected EV infrastructure upgrade costs will drive new economic models, requiring discussions with stakeholders to begin early.

– Utilities should identify opportunities to incorporate load management, including managed charging and rate design and encourage the creation and broad adoption of open protocols.

“I have heard from several of our board members. One board member was especially delighted when he found out we were publishing this paper,” said Myers. “He has a lot of electric cooperatives reaching out to him. We know there is a need and interest in the topic. We do think this report fills in gaps in industry knowledge.”

SEPA plans to issue a second part of this report in 2020.