Electrifying Transportation and its Impact on Utilities

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Jeffrey Ressler's picture
CEO, Clean Power Research

Jeff Ressler is Chief Executive Officer of Clean Power Research®. Since joining the company in 2007, he has overseen the inception of the SolarAnywhere® and WattPlan® software families, and grown...

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  • Aug 25, 2022

This item is part of the Electrification of Transportation - August 2022 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

IRA and NEVI Funding is Coming. Are You Ready to Accelerate Your Transportation Electrification Programs?

Many states have already formed aggressive transportation electrification goals. With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and its record funding to support the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), states and their utility partners will have an increased burden around EV program implementation and management.

The good news is that many utilities around the country are already rapidly deploying energy programs and handling dramatic increases in program participation. Utilities are sharing best practices around quickly standing up and automating EV and EV make-ready programs to meet growing customer demands without overwhelming program administrators.

Besides the IRA, transportation electrification tailwinds continue to strengthen on the policy front: the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program aims to fund the strategic deployment of EV charging infrastructure at the state level. As of August 2022, all 50 states have submitted their respective EV infrastructure deployment plans for the first round of $5 billion in accessible NEVI funding over the next five years.

Utilities and energy agencies will play a critical role in helping achieve the states’ ambitious strategies with progressive timelines and oversight requirements. Utilities beginning to scale their efforts stand to learn from the experiences and successes of others who have already been accelerating and streamlining their efforts around transportation electrification.

For example, Orange & Rockland (O&R) solved some of their most challenging pain points around scaling their EV make-ready programs. As a result, they shortened their “make-ready” program life cycle by 40% and remain on track to increase EV chargers in their service area by 3,000% within five years. O&R also automated its reporting process to meet tight regulatory timelines.

Managing the distribution of new program funds and reviewing the influx of proposed charging infrastructure projects and incentive applications challenges EV program managers and their teams. In particular, installing and/or interconnecting commercial and public charging stations requires efficient multi-stakeholder coordination and a series of reviews and approval processes. To solve this challenge, many utilities turn to the exact solutions that helped them capture efficiencies and scale the interconnection of other DERs such as solar and battery storage.

Utilities and energy agencies streamline charger installation and scale EV incentive programs by automating key program workflows, accessing real-time insights on program performance, and automating stakeholder reporting. Such approaches are increasingly critical as national and local EV policies, including NEVI, the IRA and state Make-Ready programs, are rolled out. Here at Clean Power Research, we’re proud to support more than 60 electricity providers of all sizes through our cloud-based WattPlan® and PowerClerk® solutions. Available standalone or integrated, these affordable tools address needs from EV education to enrollment, administration and planning.

Utilities or energy agencies anticipating the need to scale transportation electrification programs can reduce their expenditures of dollars and time by learning from utilities that have already successfully scaled their EV and EV charging infrastructure program efforts through proven technology. Following such established best practices helps avoid program challenges and administrator burnout. It’s an exciting time for utilities and energy agencies equipped to handle their ever important and expanding role in electrifying transportation!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 25, 2022

It's great to hear about the forward-looking utilities who are embracing this role. What do you think is the difference between them and the ones that are further behind? Is it a lack of vision, resources, or comprehensive that's stopping other power companies from going all in now? 

Jeffrey Ressler's picture
Jeffrey Ressler on Aug 29, 2022

Thanks for the question, Matt. I can't recall meeting a utility person who I thought had their head in the sand, so I don't believe this is a lack of vision. Utilities are performing a balancing act with limited resources and, like other market players, they react to signals. One of those signals is demand. Are they hearing from customers in their services territories—and I'm particularly thinking about commercial customers here—that transportation electrification is a must-have, a strategic level imperative for them? The utilities are also sensitive to the overall context in their state. If there is a big push at the state level around transportation electrification—esp. with real programs and real dollars behind it--that puts the whole context in a different place, a place of broad market awareness and potential regulatory scrutiny.

I certainly see a lot of parallels between what's happening with transportation electrification and what we saw with solar PV adoption around the country, especially solar DG. For example, you had states like New Jersey and California out in front with distributed solar. In those places, you had some combination of cultural and environmental readiness, policy and legislation and most importantly, economics and market factors that could move things along. I should note that it is certainly not the same combination of factors that led these states to the top with solar (for example, the SREC market in New Jersey did not have a parallel in CA). Anyway, we don’t look at the market for solar now and only see just CA and New Jersey. I expect it will be the same with transportation electrification: states and their utilities will “get there,” but sometimes at vastly different paces.

Another thing worth mentioning is the significant potential for large capital outlays and infrastructure upgrades on the part of the utility when we think about things like commercial and DCFC charging infrastructure. Those requirements will often be more costly than the upgrades that many utilities made to accommodate residential and commercial solar. We’re not just talking about dollars required, there is the time needed given the complexity of permitting, environmental impact studies and the like, in addition to the construction time.

The utilities that are in a different place than the trailblazers are able to benefit from the latter’s learnings and that is useful. The work is then to tune efforts for the specific market, policy and cultural context at a particular utility. From an administrative and operational standpoint, a lot of the software tools that have advanced solar or storage are able to provide similar benefits in transportation electrification, and this is what we see with many of our 60+ utility customers. There is a familiarity with the tools and the tools’ adaptability to new scenarios that allows utility administrators to come in and get new programs off the ground quickly and with the confidence that they can scale to meet growing demand and evolving regulatory and reporting requirements.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 31, 2022

Really valuable insights here, I appreciate the follow up!

Todd Carney's picture
Todd Carney on Sep 7, 2022

This is a fascinating piece. What do you make of the news out of California with their grid issues and that charging electric vehicles could put further strain on the grid?

Jeffrey Ressler's picture
Jeffrey Ressler on Sep 30, 2022

Thanks for the interest and the question, Todd. We could cover a range of topics regarding grid reliability and EVs, from Level 2 charger load requirements, TOU rates and record-breaking heatwaves to grid and load intelligence, expected technological advances to make EVs part of the solution, supply and many more. I’ll focus on a few.   

I’m in agreement with your article dated September 6th, stating the importance of load management when it comes to accelerating EV adoption. As a technologist, I certainly consider what more can be done automatically using some grid and load intelligence, especially if meaningful voluntary adoption of these programs isn’t likely. Can we also take hard, technical and/or vexing decisions out of the mix? Can we allow market participants to express their intent in the systems in advance so that the signals can transmit and be acted upon automatically at the appropriate time? For example, this could mean “pre-charging” an EV just as we might pre-cool a home. With a smarter Level 2 charger it could mean charging during optimal hours but also at relatively low power.  

What is the intent of the user (driver) in these cases? We shouldn’t ask consumers to understand the nuances of all the technologies they use. Thus, it could be something like “On any weekday morning at 7:30a, I want my EV’s range to be above 45 miles.” How that is accomplished is left to the systems: the car and the charger, possibly with communication or direction from the utility’s or grid manager’s systems, for example. Advanced notice is helpful of course; the earlier those actionable signals get there, the better.  

EVs of course have a chance to be part of the solution, especially as batteries get bigger and we see more V2H and V2G support in vehicles. What might usually be a load can now occasionally be a supply. As bidirectional capabilities are further developed, and utilities and energy agencies continue to bring more assets online and gain deeper insights into long-term DER adoption models, restoring grid reliability as electricity demand and EV adoption continue to increase is a challenging task and will hopefully be achieved soon. There is uncertainty here as these new approaches are pioneered in places like California. 

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