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Transportation Electrification – Oncor’s Efforts to Be Ahead of the Wave

David Treichler's picture
Director Business Development Oncor Electric Delivery

Dr. David Treichler is the Director of Strategy and Technology for Oncor Electric Delivery in Dallas where he is responsible for strategic analysis supporting the growth of the enterprise. Prior...

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  • Nov 13, 2020 11:27 am GMT
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Oncor is dedicated to ensuring the capacity needed to charge a vehicle is present when a customer elects to acquire one or a whole fleet of electric vehicles.

We are responding to customer requests for enhanced service capacity to charge vehicles whether at home, at public sites or along transportation corridors. Our approach is predicated upon the Texas electric market structure where Oncor transports electricity from a generation source to a meter on a customer’s premise. Other parties generate the electricity and still others sell it in competitive markets. Since we are prohibited from participating in the competitive markets, we cannot own chargers or the infrastructure on the customer’s premise.

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This may seem a constraining environment to encourage transportation electrification, but we see in it an opportunity to better serve our customers. To do this, Oncor segmented the customer groups we serve who may wish to electrify their vehicles, whether for personal transportation or fleets that enable transit and municipal services or haul freight and deliver packages. The segmentation permitted us to look at the investment Oncor would need to make to serve these segments most effectively.

Our response has been different for each group and will continue to be so. For personal transportation, we have modeled different areas in our service territory to determine load impacts as customers transition from internal combustion vehicles to electric. What we have seen is most feeders do not require significant upgrades until approximately 25 percent or more of the premises add electric charging for their vehicles. Given the nearly 10 million customers we serve, we generally see the ability to handle the necessary upgrades in our normal investment planning.

Fleets, however, are a different story. Texas has nearly 13% of all US Freight moving through it, The Dallas and Fort Worth area is a cross roads for air, road and rail transport. It also has one of the highest concentrations of logistics centers and warehousing in the country.

We have identified nearly 22,000 fleets of various sizes, vehicle types and operational uses in our service area. Whether school buses, transit fleets, municipal governments, or commercial enterprises. We see Amazon warehouses with hundreds of tractor trailers delivering goods and thousands of vans making the trip to your home or business. We also see the neighborhood dry cleaner with three delivery vans. All may make a decision to electrify those fleets as total cost of ownership continues to drop rapidly.

We also have great interest in the Tesla factory opening next year in Austin, which will be making the Semi and Cybertruck along with the new Roadster and model Y crossovers. We expect these locally manufactured vehicles will draw substantial interest from Texans, and particularly those living and working in our service area.

To better understand how Oncor can honor its promise to have capacity available to charge prior to the arrival of an electric vehicle, we have and are taking two actions:

First, we built and continue to refine a tool that enables us to know within a few minutes where the closest capacity exists at substations.  We gather information from the customer about the company electrification plans and likely operational profiles. This information is analyzed in the tool which can project load increases out to 2050 for residential, commercial and industrial needs. We layer in the fleet data which accelerates the substation load growth, but puts the total into perspective. This provides direction for Oncor to plan capital investments needed to meet customer requirements on any given feeder.

We also have the ability to do “what if” analysis of loads for fleet owners and operators. While this information is preliminary, it allows us to look more in-depth.

Second, we are beginning a study of our electrification landscape. We hope to learn about the size, shape, location and timing of fleet electrification in our service area as a result of this project. It will become the roadmap for how we expand fleet customer engagement.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 13, 2020

Fleets, however, are a different story. Texas has nearly 13% of all US Freight moving through it, The Dallas and Fort Worth area is a cross roads for air, road and rail transport. It also has one of the highest concentrations of logistics centers and warehousing in the country.

This is a really great point-- I think a lot of times electrification of transportation and the build out of necessary charging infrastructure is thought of on too small of a scale. We look, for example, to California as they are often the state leading the charge on this type of new energy technology-- but identifying 'hotspots' where the availability (or lack thereof) of chargers would touch the largest amount of trips is a great way to kickstart progress. Also highlights the need for regional action across these major pathways rather than a patchwork state-by-state process

Benoit Marcoux's picture
Benoit Marcoux on Nov 16, 2020

The complement to this is in the paragraph before: “What we have seen is most feeders do not require significant upgrades until approximately 25 percent or more of the premises add electric charging for their vehicles. Given the nearly 10 million customers we serve, we generally see the ability to handle the necessary upgrades in our normal investment planning.”

Like other electricity distributors, Oncor is finding that adoption of EVs by consumers is not breaking the grid. 

Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on Nov 20, 2020

I'm curious about how making truck and van fleets electric-powered will affect local grid infrastructure. I assume charging large numbers of trucks and/or vans in a small geographic area would require a lot of power to be brought to the area, but as a lot of warehouses/fulfillment centers are built in industrial/commercial neighborhoods, the circuits that serve them may already be up to the task. For example, in the Philadelphia area, where I live, an old steel mill site and a former refinery site are being redeveloped as distribution centers. The infrastructure that brings power to those locations may need to be updated, but my guess is it was built to be able to handle large loads.

Benoit Marcoux's picture
Benoit Marcoux on Nov 21, 2020

The simple answer is... it depends.

A charging depot may pull a load in the order of magnitude of a megawatt (but it could be more or less, depending on the number and size of vehicles). A typical distribution feeder may carry a few megawatts (again, this may vary, depending on voltage and current capacity). So, it is not hard to see that adding EV charging depots in an industrial park may stress the existing grid in an industrial park.

Upgrading the local grid because of new loads is something that utilities do as a matter of normal business, in their investment planning process.

The issue then becomes: who pays for it?

The answer, again, depends on local regulations. In general, upgrades for small loads are simply put in the rate base of the utility, eventually paid by all utility ratepayers (aka customers). Upgrades for large additional loads are paid by the (large) customer requesting it. Whether the upgrades for a charging depot fall in a category or the other depends on local regulations. 

In the case of warehouses, another issue is that the operator of the facility (who owns the trucks) may not be the owners of the building. The real estate owners may not be willing to invest in a grid upgrade unless they are certain to be paid back by the operator. And the operator may not be willing to invest in the upgrade because they do not own the facility…

I'm sure that David (the author) can probably add to this. 

David Treichler's picture
David Treichler on Nov 23, 2020

our experience has been that everyone who has responded is correct. In Dallas, most of the logistics and distribution centers do not have high loads (they aren't air conditioned except maybe a small office area) or heated. So the loads are in the kilowatts vs the megawatts needed to charge large fleets. A redeveloped area like Philadelphia likely has capacity (MWs) available, but may require that old infrastructure may need updating or replacement anyway. In any event, utilities need to assess the situation as Benoit has pointed out and be prepared to be proactive with customers, educating them on the process to electrify, especially the time it takes, and the cost impacts before trucks arrive in their yard needing a charge.

Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on Dec 2, 2020

One thing I keep noting in my comments for Energy Central is my experience at the Philadelphia Business Journal writing about a younger member of a family-owned-or-controlled logistics company who started a division of the company to install solar generation systems on the roofs of warehouses owned by companies like the one he worked for. The division failed and he won't respond to my questions about it, but I thought it was a good idea at the time and think it could be a good idea still. Amazon is building, buying or leasing giant warehouses all over the country and it's very climate conscious, so it would seem a natural customer for such a company. I mention all this here because I'm wondering if solar arrays on the roofs of big distribution centers could help charge the trucks that use those centers when the trucks go electric.

David Treichler's picture
David Treichler on Dec 2, 2020

Peter:  The answer to your question is absolutely. The topic of renewables and on site generation to offset demand charges and reduce overall energy purchases comes up in most of our discussions. The key driver here is the total cost of utility delivered power vs the cost of self generation whether solar, wind or fuel cells. These kinds of evaluations will likely be a part of every decision, although because of total investment needed for the vehicles and charging may be a second phase in the total fleet transition.

Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on Dec 3, 2020

Thanks for answering. As I said in an earlier comment, two distribution centers in the Philadelphia area are being built on classic brownfield sites — one housed a steel mill, the other housed an oil refinery — which are good locations for renewable generation, storage and fuel cells any way. It will be interesting to see the degree to which those technologies get developed at distribution center sites going forward.

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