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DOE Report Distills Challenges and Opportunities Utilities Face As EVs Proliferate

October 21, 2021

by Peter Maloney
October 21, 2021

The Department of Energy (DOE) has released a report on the issues and opportunities facing utilities as electric vehicles become more widespread.

A wave of electrification will put millions of personal and commercial electric vehicles (EVs) on U.S. roads in the coming decade, according to the report, An EV Future: Navigating the Transition, by the DOE’s Office of Electricity’s Advanced Grid Research Division (AGR) and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO). That “wave may be more like a tsunami,” the report’s authors said, noting that the “merging the transportation and electricity sectors has the potential to fundamentally transform how customers fuel vehicles and how goods are transported across the country.”

To address the challenges of more widespread electric vehicle use, the AGR and VTO in July 2020 launched the Navigating the Transition initiative, taking the same Voices of Experience approach the DOE has used for other initiatives it has conducted.

To implement the EV initiative, the DOE hosted a series of 33 two-hour virtual meetings covering 15 topics. An industry steering committee provided feedback and input into the scope and topics to ensure alignment with stakeholder needs and interests and to avoid duplication of other efforts.

The steering committee included Bill Boyce, supervisor of electric transportation at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California, and Patricia Taylor, senior manager for regulatory policy and business programs at the American Public Power Association.

In addition to participation on the steering committee, the following public power utilities also participated in the initiative as presenters:

  • Bill Boyce, Sacramento Municipal Utility District,
  • Rajiv Diwan, director of e-mobility strategy and business development at New York Power Authority,
  • Lindsey McDougall, electric vehicle program manager at Austin Energy in Texas,
  • Karl Popham, manager of electric vehicles and emerging technologies at Austin Energy,
  • Darren Springer, general manager, Burlington Electric Department in Vermont, and
  • Peter Westlake, sustainability programs manager at Orlando Utilities Commission in Florida.

The topics participants in the initiative explored and debated fell into three broad areas: planning, operations, and business case. Planning topics included forecasting EV market penetration and adoption rates, as well as considerations regarding the fulfillment service requests and the timing of adding new EV charging infrastructure.

Operations included topics such as how fast charging technologies can affect the electric grid and the impact extreme events could have going forward.

Business case topics included ownership models for the EV technologies that will be deployed and the financing of charging infrastructure.

While electric rate reform is an important issue, the design of the DOE initiative touched on existing rate structures but did not explore rate reform alternatives because of the enormity of the topic.

Key Takeaways

Noting that the report is not a roadmap or technical report, the authors did compile several key takeaways based on the 66 hours of stakeholder conversations. Among those takeaways was the recognition that EV loads are mobile and unpredictable and, therefore, processes and regulations may need to evolve to respond to customer requirements. The participants also noted that social justice issues will require special attention as the country moves away from an early adopter phase.

The participants agreed that a robust, visible charging network will be critical as EV penetration rises. Not all drivers will be able to charge at home, the participants noted, and even those who can charge at home will likely want the comfort and security of being able to charge when they need to wherever they are.

The deployment of EV infrastructure will face the added challenge of a shortage of skilled workers, including electricians, meter technicians and contractors that can work with high voltage equipment, the participants said.

The participants also noted that the charging of electric vehicle fleets will be more challenging than charging in residential neighborhoods. Electrifying a fleet of delivery trucks or buses could increase load requirements by double or triple digits, possibly requiring new substations or transmission lines, they said.

Utilities will be a key nexus in the transition to an electrified transportation sector, the participants said. Utilities will likely, in the near term, be required deploy and maintain the backbone infrastructure needed for charging stations. The modernization of the grid is changing the nature of utilities’ relationships with their customers, and electric vehicles will amplify this change, the participants noted in the report.

As electrification continues to move forward, collaboration will be key and stakeholders who have worked together in the past will likely work together differently in the future, the initiative participants noted. They also noted one piece of recurring advice throughout the initiative: embrace the local utility as a partner.