EV Charging Technology

Are utilities ready to cope with the EV boom?

By

Elisa Bustos

January 3, 2022

As 2022 begins, it’s natural to look back at 2021 and see how the EV market has changed and what technologies are making the biggest impact.  

In this article, we will be taking a specific look at the SEPA report “The State of Managed Charging in 2021” in which we see how Managed Charging Programs are reshaping the utility industry. SEPA is a non-profit organization that provides resources to electric power stakeholders to help them become carbon-free by 2050.

The challenges faced by utility companies

Utility companies are on the verge of seismic changes.

President Biden’s Electric Vehicle Charging Action Plan sets an ambitious target of electric vehicle (EV) sales making up 50% of overall vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030. This means that millions of new electric vehicles and chargers will be connected to the same electric grid over the next decade. Utility companies face challenges that could lead to problems such as power outages and rapidly rising energy costs. 

EV sales in Q2 2021 made up 3.6% of total vehicle sales volume in the United States and more than 6.5% globally. The impact of 25 million EVs on the US power system will generate roughly 100 terawatt-hours of new electricity demand annually, meaning a 2.5% increase from today’s annual electricity consumption.

The report explores the many variables that utility companies need to take into account, from the type of customer to whom they are supplying energy (personal use charging, fleet operators, microgrid operators, etc), to TOU rates,  demand response events, and many more. 

Utility companies and OEMs are exploring various approaches to EV charging optimization that are compatible with their current systems and help them to overcome the potential challenges. The research set out in this report shows that managed charging programs have been successful so far in changing charging behavior to meet utility objectives.


Here are the four types of managed charging programs:

  1. Passive Managed Charging:  Also known as “behavioral load control”, is the type of charging that relies on predictable charging behavior learned through historical data.
  2. Active Managed Charging: Also known as “direct load control”, works with constant communication between the chargers. This is a continuous management approach where the load is controlled continuously when the EV is plugged in with active changes throughout the charging session.
  3. Continuous Managed Charging: Also known as “dynamic managed charging”, optimizes EV charging schedules in coordination with variable utility signals, such as market pricing and vehicle schedules. Dynamic pricing allows for real-time control load, while ensuring vehicle uptime.
  4. Multi-layer Optimization:  This charging program considers system constraints while considering the driver’s charging preferences. This type of managed charging helps identify challenges within more complex operations and multiple charging infrastructures.

Third-party optimization has also come into the scene, not necessarily through utility programs, but through EV fleets. These optimization systems are targeting complex installations for electric school buses, trucks, and taxi fleets. According to SEPA,  since their 2019 report, more utilities have entered the fleet charging space, impacting their views on managed charging programs and seeing new opportunities to integrate optimization systems.


Key Data

If we take a look at the last two years, we can already see the difference. The SEPA report states that this year:

  • Out of 50 unique utility companies, “19 identified as either having a fully-implemented managed EV charging program or were conducting a managed charging pilot. The remaining 31 respondents identified as either planning or were interested in having a managed charging program”
  • “The 31 respondents without a current managed charging program were further asked when they planned to establish a managed EV charging program. 67% of the 31 respondents indicated that they were planning to implement a new managed EV program within the next 2 years, with less than 13% of the utilities indicating they were planning to do so in more than 5 years.”

Utility companies are looking into optimization systems to help customers manage electricity use, avoid higher cost periods of energy supply, and increase customer engagement. The focus is mainly on residential sectors where customers require a more customized and friendly interface, but there is also a lot of interest in workplace charging and public charging as well.


What are the main challenges that utility companies face?

When asked, 60% of respondents indicated that the uncertainty around EV customer participation in an EV charging program was the most significant barrier, an increase from 42% of respondents in 2019. 

Utility companies are left wondering how to effectively engage those customers.

Utilities are looking for help with:

  1. Industry consensus around a managed charging protocol
  2. Managed charging program design guide
  3. Regulatory support for managed charging

Companies are moving towards dynamic and continuously managed charging which requires more sophisticated and complex optimization technologies. Right now, utility companies mainly rely on passive managed charging, which is often seen only as an intermediate solution.

Strong partnerships make the difference

Revel Superhub in Brooklyn, NY. Optimized by Ampcontrol
Revel Superhub in Brooklyn, NY. Optimized by Ampcontrol

In April 2021, Revel opened the largest public DCFC site in North America for its new fleet of Tesla taxis. Revel partnered with Ampcontrol to roll out a managed charging strategy at the Revel Superhub in Brooklyn, NY. 

New York City has among the most expensive demand charges in the country, which leaves EV fleets vulnerable to expensive electricity bills. 

Ampcontrol focuses on multi-layer optimization. In this case, the main goals were:

  • Reduction of Electricity Costs
  • Site Optimization
  • Vehicle Optimization

Program Partners

Focusing upon on-time departure and low TOC costs, Ampcontrol optimizes the EV load and scheduling to ensure a smooth charging session.  The software uses vehicle and charging station data, energy price data, EV battery information, and fleet timetables to set the charging schedule, reducing the peak load by 50%.

With Ampcontrol’s cloud-based software, Revel and Ampcontrol are able to scale this optimization to future locations and expanded vehicle fleets. The software can also take into account more complex inputs such as TOU rates, battery life, V2G events, and much more, making it flexible for future technologies and changes entering the market.

Key Takeaways 

  • Dual-usage of charging sites can be used effectively and promote more efficient usage of site locations (for public and fleet). 
  • Utilize software that is future-proofed and allows for new market opportunities. Software services provide flexibility to adapt programs as needed for future growth. 
  • Site simulation allows for cost-effective means of trialing different types of site configurations and charging schedules. These simulations helped Revel and Ampcontrol to select the right charging infrastructure.
  • Real-time optimization is possible with all-electric ride-hailing fleets.

Conclusion

Utilities are in need to change their approach to charging. They will be in need of third-party optimization in order to adapt the right managed charging program to their needs. We are seeing great changes in fleet electrification and management, with optimization at the forefront.

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