Rocky Mountain Institute Says EV Boom Could Be Good For Utilities

The Rocky Mountain Institute is a bunch of tree hugging Bernie Sanders supporters located in Colorado. They are definitely “the glass is half full” types when it comes to the social changes being wrought by new technology. RMI has just released a new report that proclaims a surge in EV cars on America’s roads could be very good news for the folks who make electricity. Here’s why.

Rocky Mountain Institute report on charging electric cars

The report says an EV with a 30 kWh battery, “stores as much electricity as the average U.S. residence consumes in a day.” If all U.S. light duty cars suddenly became EVs, “they would require about 1,000 [terawatt hours] of additional electricity per year, or an increase of about one-quarter of our current electricity demand.”

Uh, oh. That can’t be good, can it? Does that mean we will need to build lots of new coal and natural gas fired generating plants to meet the needs of electric cars? Not necessarily, say the folks at RMI. Not if we are smart about it.

The worst case scenario is if all of America comes home from work around dinner time and plugs in their EV for the night. In that case, yes, grdp operators will be overwhelmed with demand for electricity and America will need lots of new carbon spewing generating plants to keep up.

But what if we have a smart grid that charges all those cars in the middle of the night? That’s when base load facilities are idling along and demand is lowest. It is also the time when electricity costs the least. RMI thinks market forces would encourage most folks to install chargers that would maximize savings by only operating during the wee hours of the morning.

“Instead of investing in this peak capacity, we want to shift that charging so that it happens in the middle of the night when you’ve got baseload capacity sitting there running,” says Chris Nelder, one of the authors of the RMI report. The result, he says, could “actually optimize the use of all the other assets on the grid. And in so doing, it could actually reduce the per kilowatt-hour cost of electricity.”

But RMI isn’t done. It also suggests that EV charging during midday when supply from solar installations is at its peak would also be a smart move. In that scenario, the growing number of EVs are “basically going to act like a big sponge to soak up all that power,” Nelder says. “This would make every mile driven by these EVs greener, and it would also probably flatten the peak of daily energy demand.”

The critical factor, though, would be the vast infrastructure of charging stations that will be needed to accompany EV growth. “For that load to have a positive, as opposed to negative, effect on the grid, those chargers need to be where vehicles can plug into them at the right time,” the report says. Since the right time is likely to be in the middle of the day, those chargers need to be located at workplaces, malls, and other public areas.

Who will install, maintain, and pay for all those charging stations? Private companies like ChargePoint will be part of the mix, but Nelder thinks utilities themselves are the ones who are best able to install and manage the charging equipment.

“We don’t want utilities and regulators sleeping on this,” Nelder says, “because if they don’t see it coming, and they don’t put appropriate tariffs and regulations into place, if they don’t make sure that they’re helping get charging stations put in place at the right places where people can access them at the right time of day … they’ll lose control of the situation.”

In other words, utilities will need to think ahead and plan proactively for the future instead of digging in their heels to impede the pace of progress in order to protect their existing business model. Around the nation, there are some utilities that are taking a progressive stance, but plenty that are resisting change with every fiber of their being. A year ago, RMI issued another report that showed how utilities could embrace solar power rather than fight it and still be profitable.

Ultimately, the Rocky Mountain Institute hopes utilities and regulators will elect to let smart grids and market forces shape the future of electrical power, not a desire to protect investment decisions made 50 years ago.

Source: Washington Post


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.