Tuesday, June 5, 2012

EVs or not EVs, that is the Question...

Okay, I've been "off the air" for a while.  Busy with some new projects since last October, and I'm still pretty busy, but an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer got my attention.

The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article this week covering the PA PUC's consideration of "alternative fuel" vehicles (i.e. Electric and Natural Gas) and their effect on Utility Systems.  A couple of paragraphs from that article are interesting:

"Terry Boston, chief executive of PJM Interconnection Inc., the regional grid operator, said that if a million electric vehicles had attempted to tap into the mid-Atlantic system on a hot day similar to last July 21, when the grid labored under record loads, a massive blackout would have occurred.
But the distribution system could accommodate 25 million vehicles if smart-grid controls were installed — they’re currently in the works — and all vehicles were remotely synchronized to recharge between midnight and 7 a.m., when there is an abundance of generation capacity.

Time-of-use rates, which allow suppliers to price electricity hourly to encourage customers to shift loads to discounted off-peak hours, would help manage a more efficient use of the electrical system, the experts said. Pennsylvania utilities are currently mandated to devise hourly-rate options for customers who want them." [emphasis mine]

OK, campers.  Here's a question for you:
Why is it that time-of-use rates are just dandy for getting customers to shift loads to off-peak hours, but if the load is an electric vehicle it has to be remotely synchronized?

Here's another:
What happens if the remote synchronization screws up (or is intentionally messed with)?  (If you think that central control of vehicle activity being hacked is a longshot, read this...  or maybe this...)

And another:
What liability would a utility bear if the charging information on a vehicle were captured from their system for some nefarious purpose (such as stalking)?

Now, I've heard the argument that EVs represent an unusually large load for a residence.  Granted, they might.  How are other unusually large loads (like large Commercial or Industrial customers) handled?  Oh yeah, rate incentives.

Let's cut to the chase:  If price incentives are structured properly, and the EV charging hardware (usually called Electric Vehicle Servicing Equipment or EVSE) can respond to those signals (either directly or under the control of a broader customer energy management system) the same results as remote control of charging are possible, at a lower cost to implement for the Utility.

Remember that you don't have to protect customer's data that you don't have.

Also remember that the grid already has systems in place to respond to unexpected load changes, and these will only get better as smart grid rolls out.

Yes, counting on price signals for controlling supply and demand might seem a bit risky to the Utility.  But the alternative has risks of its own, and few if any additional rewards.

One more thought:  The Use Cases for price responsive vehicle charging already exist.  Go take a look.

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