New NREL research highlights value of, roadblocks to electric vehicle managed charging

Published on January 12, 2022 by Chris Galford

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A team at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) published findings last week on the potential value of electric vehicle managed charging, offering a complete review of how EVs and the grid could unite values to benefit the intertwining electric and transportation sectors.

Published in Energy & Environmental Science, the study broke the matter into three parts: the managed charging landscape, the costs and benefits of managed charging, and the future research and developments needed to make this all a reality. In terms of the landscape itself, the researchers determined that at its simplest, managed charging is time-of-use pricing offering lower electricity rates for off-peak charging periods. At its most sophisticated, such charging could even allow EVs to act as temporary electricity suppliers by pulling their power back to the grid.

These forms of smart charging would require communication between utilities and vehicles, though, and the more complex the need, the more important two-way communication becomes.

“Managed charging can be a tremendous resource for the grid, but there are trade-offs to solutions at different levels of commercial readiness,” Matteo Muratori, NREL analyst and principal investigator of the study, said. “Some solutions offer a wider range of grid services and value streams but require increasingly complex communication and control technology and demands on users, which come with a cost.”

Regardless, the flexibility of such systems could prove particularly valuable for the grid as it transitions to greater shares of variable renewable generation sources, such as solar and wind power. Like the green power being added, NREL researchers determined EV management could decrease emissions and improve reliability, and lower power system costs. Even factoring in upgrades likely needed for parts of the power system, NREL researchers determined that retail electricity rates would likely fall for all consumers as a result of EV management, thanks to improved system efficiency.

Prices could vary, however. For example, power system cost savings from managed charging fell in systems with other flexibility sources, value is impacted by charging strategy, and implementation costs are far from certain due to their newness to the market. Mutatori further labeled these methods, when used for distribution systems, to be location and system-specific.

If general statements on benefits are therefore rendered tricky, they are complicated further by the fact that a complete benefit-cost analysis on the extent of value streams for the power system, enablement costs, and stakeholder perspectives has not been conducted. NREL stressed this importance and added that one is needed – along with demonstration projects, data modeling, and data analysis.