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Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast Episode #28: 'The Swirling Romance of Utilities and EVs’ with Lincoln Bleveans and Joe Flores of Burbank Water and Power

Posted to Energy Central in the Utility Management Group

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For most of their history, the utility industry and the transportation industry have been tangentially associated, but not fully intertwined. Certain small-scale vehicles required electricity, transportation and power both have had to deal with their greenhouse gas contributions, and many forms of transportation were critical to moving electric fuels around the world. These sectors would see each other in passing, occasionally collaborate, but ultimately remain independent. Well as anyone who's recently been to an auto trade show, watched a Super Bowl commercial, or paid close attention to the cars parked at the shopping center knows, it seems like electric vehicles (EVs) have truly arrived. No longer is it a notable event when you spy a Tesla on the road or an EV driver actually using the charger in the parking garage, but rather the pivot point has been reached where EVs are all over the place. As EVs grow in market presence, today's guests find that the separation of utility and transportation is waning. In fact, they'd go so far as to say that the future of these industries is beyond intermingling but will reach a full-fledged marriage where continued success of one is built upon the success of the other. 

Lincoln Bleveans (Assistant General Manager of Power Supply) and Joe Flores (Marketing Manager) of Burbank Water and Power have spent much time analyzing the electrification of transportation and what the implications are to the utility. Being able to plan for the growth in demand load from EVs is atop the mind of utility executives, but Lincoln and Joe are also eager to see how the availability of EVs as sustainable and flexible assets can transform how utility managers look at patterns on the grid and the opportunity for true strategic transformation. Lincoln and Joe are truly a dynamic duo and their conversation with host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester will surely leave the listener just as excited about the utility/transportation marriage as they are. 

Prefer to Read vs. Listening? Scroll Down to Read Transcript.

Thanks to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsri, Anterix, and ScottMadden

 

Key Links
Lincoln Bleveans' Energy Central Profile: https://energycentral.com/member/profile/lincoln-bleveans

The California Transportation-Electricity Marriage: The (Utility) Honeymoon Tell-All: https://energycentral.com/c/ec/california-transportation-electricity-marriage-utility-honeymoon-tell-all-zpryme

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price:

Hello, and welcome to another exciting edition of the Energy Central Power Perspectives podcast. As our regular listeners know, in this show we bring to the podcast booth the movers and shakers in the utility space. Decision-makers, innovators, and leaders across the world of energy and highlighting the insights of our esteemed guests who strive to bring perspective to the utility professional about the electrifying happenings across the power sector today, and preview what thought leaders forecast will be creating the utility industry tomorrow.

Jason Price:

As always, I'm your host, Jason Price of West Monroe, stationed in New York City. Virtually by my side is producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, though he's dialed in from Orlando, Florida. Matt, how are you doing today?

Matt Chester:

Hi Jason, and thanks as always for the introduction. We've got a good one here today so you know I'm excited.

Jason Price:

Matt, we're returning to a topic that's been touched upon in our podcast before, but from a unique angle and that's electric vehicles and their impact to the utility sector. The EV transformation appears to finally be here and for the utility professional, that prospect is both exciting and daunting.

Jason Price:

New charging equipment and infrastructure is necessary. The power demand patterns are shifting and the anticipated increase in power loads and the need to charge those cars are dominating utility planning processes. But so too are the opportunities for EVs to act as energy storage, demand response, and sustainable assets. More than ever, the rise of EVs is causing the electric power industry and the transportation industry to get intermingled and intertwined.

Jason Price:

More than that, our guests today suggest that we're on the eve of an electric utility marriage with transportation. I'm not sure anyone on the podcast today will be qualified to officiate that wedding, but I'm eager to dig into exactly what that means. But first let's pause to recognize our partners who are making today's episode possible. To West Monroe. West Monroe works with the nation's largest electric, gas and water utilities and their telecommunication, grid modernization and digital and workforce transformations. West Monroe brings a multidisciplinary team that blends utility, operations and technology expertise to address modernizing aging infrastructure, advisory on transportation, electrification, ADMS deployments, and DER and cybersecurity. To Esri. Esri, an international supplier of geographic information, GIS software, web GIS, and geo database management applications. To Anterix. Anterix focus on delivering transformative broadband that enables the modernization of critical infrastructure for the energy, transportation, logistics, and other sectors of our economy. And to Scott Madden, a management consulting firm serving clients across the energy utility ecosystem. Areas of focus include transmission and distribution, the grid edge, generation, energy markets, rates and regulations, corporate sustainability and corporate services. The firm helps clients develop and implement strategies, improve critical operations, we organized department and entire companies and implement myriad initiatives.

Jason Price:

With such a complex and high-profile topic for the future of utilities, it's only appropriate we make today a supersize episode featuring two guests coming to us from Burbank Water and Power. First, joining us after actually being the second-ever podcast guests we had on the Power Perspectives back at the end of 2019, is Lincoln Bleveans.

Jason Price:

As we speak with him today, Lincoln is the assistant general manager of power supply for Burbank Water and Power and he's also been a frequent contributor to the Energy Central community. That engagement includes an upcoming piece that he's previewed for us that will soon be published to the community called "The California Transportation Electric Utility Marriage." We were eager to bring Lincoln onto the podcast again to dive into this important topic, but as we were setting to do so, Lincoln announced the exciting new role he'll soon be taking on at Stanford University as their executive director of sustainability and energy management.

Jason Price:

But we couldn't let him sneak away from the utility space without covering the EV transformation at Burbank Water and Power and he was kind enough to also tag in his colleague, Joe Flores, Burbank Water and Power's Marketing Manager who could carry on the conversation from the forward-looking planning at the utility. Lincoln, we want to congratulate you on the new role at Stanford University. How excited are you to get started?

Lincoln Bleveans:

Extremely excited. It is a wonderful opportunity, although it's going to be tough to leave my colleagues at Burbank Water and Power.

Jason Price:

And Joe, we couldn't be more thrilled that Lincoln was able to talk you into joining us and carrying the BWP torch, moving forward in these critical discussions. Thank you for being here today.

Joe Flores:

Oh, it's my pleasure, Jason. I'm really looking forward to this discussion.

Jason Price:

Fantastic. Well, let's get started. Lincoln, you're going to discuss in the upcoming energy central post, the requirement that only EVs are sold in California after 2035. A move many in the media painted as a radical and transformative policy was in fact not all that bold. Some may consider that a hot take. Can you expand on what makes you shrug your shoulders at such a mandate?

Lincoln Bleveans:

I will and in fact, it is a hot take, but at least in California, I see the momentum towards electric vehicles as unstoppable. You look around in Southern California, not only do you see an increasing amount of EV charging infrastructure that facilitates the adoption of EVs, but you're really starting to see a lot of them on the road. One, because they're economical, but two, because people just love to drive them and that's something that we've done a lot of work to get people in the driver's seat of EVs here at BWP.

Lincoln Bleveans:

So I really do see the momentum is unstoppable and once you start adding volume, you get a virtual circle of adoption. I'm confident that electric vehicle is just going to be vehicle well before 2035. I think electric vehicles will be the default, no-brainer choice, not just from an environmental perspective, but also from an economic perspective.

Jason Price:

Whether or not the EV transformation happens as a matter of policy, of economics, or of consumer preference, the impact to the grid will be the same and that's potentially the largest increase in power demand that we've ever seen in aggregate for utility folks. This question dominates a lot of boardroom discussions. So Joe, I want to jump right to the core and ask you, are utilities ready for the wide electrification of the transportation sector?

Joe Flores:

So I'm going to say, in California, I think the answer is yes, mostly because I think that the utilities have accepted that they have a critical role in that electrification future. We're going to have new technology that I think that is going to help us create that new way of serving the load, that's going to give us this opportunity to do it with, in addition to just putting bigger wires and bigger transformers and other things like that, I really think that we're going to be in tune with the consumer and new products are going to come out in the areas of technology that are really going to help us leverage what we have and build smarter in the future.

Lincoln Bleveans:

And I can take that too, a little bit upstream. I think, as Joe said, there's certainly going to be a lot of transformation at the distribution level and at the meter and behind the meter But when you look at power supply in general, California has done an exceptional job of energy efficiency and conservation over the last number of years and as a result, a lot of the system, not all of the system, but a lot of the system actually has some excess capacity in it where we see the pinch points on that, of course, like for example, last August blackout. But most hours of the year, we have enough electric supply capacity in California to very comfortably absorb the additional load from electric vehicles.

Lincoln Bleveans:

Now, of course, that does get complicated late in the day when solar comes off and say, air conditioning loads ramp up, the neck of the duck, so to speak. But overall, we've actually freed up a lot of capacity on the system through energy efficiency and conservation and that capacity is waiting to be utilized by electric vehicles.

Joe Flores:

Lincoln, we really heard that message at the programmatic level as we start to build out infrastructure here in Burbank. And what we've done is we've been able to collaborate with our distribution folks and say, "Where's the additional distribution capacity located?" And that's where we focused on, where we want to do public charging infrastructure first.

Jason Price:

And what do you think Lincoln, are states generally unprepared for the EV transition? Is now the time to start oversizing the spend? What is happening, for example, to the gas tax base and how states will withstand that financial impact. Can you talk about what California and Burbank are doing to prepare?

Lincoln Bleveans:

Well, I see this really as more of a state-level question than a local question and to me, it really comes down to some very fundamental policy issues. There are a couple of major questions here. One is, who is actually making that spend? Is it the public purse? Is it private industry? Is it both? Right now, we're seeing both. But I think in every locale, there's a question of what the most efficient way is to do that. And then also when you talk about the gas tax base, that raises a really interesting question. How do you replace the revenue that the states use generally to fix the highways that comes from gasoline and diesel fuel tax?

Lincoln Bleveans:

I can certainly see a scenario where you have metering or sub-metering for electric vehicle loads and the tariff associated with that meter has a "fuel tax" at or in it to replace that. Certainly, you can look at additional road pricing. We all already have a lot of, we call them the freeways, but a lot of them are not free anymore and I think with the technology getting easier and easier in terms of GIS and cellular technology and what have you, that implementing road pricing schemes, I think becomes a lot easier technologically. Does it become easier politically? I don't know. Some people would see some big privacy concerns in that.

Lincoln Bleveans:

So you could certainly add an adder to the electricity that was going to charge electric vehicles on a tariff basis. You could certainly look at more road pricing, but overall, I really do think we need to answer that question and implement the answer sooner rather than later. It's a lot easier when we're still at a relatively small scale of electric vehicles.

Jason Price:

Fantastic. Lincoln, given the advent of EVs on the grid this often poses a particular challenge to the utilities. I was surprised that you noted that the BWP marketing team has shifted focus from getting efficient light bulbs and appliances in customer's hands to trying to get them driving EVs. So why does BWP see this as a priority? Wouldn't it be easier for the sake of adapting over time if drivers took more time to adopt EVs?

Lincoln Bleveans:

I think slower is always easier but in this case, slower doesn't meet the objectives. When we look at the state of California's greenhouse gas goals and you look at how much transportation contributes, almost half of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the state of California. Driving the electrification and thus the de-carbonization of the transportation sector is absolutely job one from a climate change perspective.

Lincoln Bleveans:

And then when we look at the additional electric sales that EVs will generate, everything from scooters and passenger cars to medium and heavy duty trucks, you're looking at a significant increase in energy sales. And when you increase the volume across the system, the cost per unit, cost per kilowatthour, goes down because you're spreading the fixed costs over a larger volume.

Lincoln Bleveans:

Not only does that make it less expensive to fuel your car, but it also drives other trends electrification objectives, such as building electrification. So when we look at EVs we see two industries, the electric industry and the transportation industry that have really barely interacted over the last 100 years. I believe over the next five to ten years, they will come to increasingly define each other's businesses.

Joe Flores:

Yeah Lincoln, I really agree with you that this integrated approach is going to be key and I think that resource efficiency, the position that it plays is changing. It still has an important role, but now it can actually support EV adoption. And so we had mentioned earlier that you want to be able to create more capacity of your existing system that allows us to then serve the EV load and that is the evolving role that efficiency now has.

Joe Flores:

So let's say, a simple example is in your home, that if you're able to use efficiency to be able to increase the capacity, literally the panel on your home, now there's the possibility of perhaps adding an electric vehicle without upgrading your panel. And you can scale that up throughout the entire value chain. On the utilities side, we don't have to add new transformers for awhile and things like that.

Joe Flores:

And so we're finding that this whole integrated approach to running the utility, not just breaking down the silos of what's going on the utility, but partnering with the other players and the regulators and the people actually designing vehicles and so forth.

Jason Price:

That's great, Joe, and let's continue that thinking some more. So you're based in California, not just in California but specifically in Burbank, which surely brings some unique considerations for Burbank Water and Power. With such a car-centric economy that's also one of the most eco-focused populations in the country, does this unique positioning lead to greater challenges with the vehicle electrification of utilities such as yours?

Joe Flores:

I think the opportunities greatly outweigh the challenges. I think the challenge right now is literally the capacity to build and I think that here in California, people in my position, those people that are actually delivering products and services to the consumer, we're in a really great position. So the state has created a carbon market that is driving funding to the utilities, to actually build out infrastructure and facilitate the adoption of transportation electrification.

Joe Flores:

So that takes a huge burden off of me to somehow justify this right away, to be able to build the investment on the backs of the ratepayers. We can now build it using this outside funding and I don't have to then come up with justification. And I'll tell you why that's super important. Here in Burbank, we only have about a 3% adoption in electrical vehicles. That means that we're going to be building this infrastructure that may not get used the next day after it becomes operational. It may take time for the adoption of vehicles in the community to build up where you're starting to see the revenue coming in, that you can actually justify it as an investment to serve load.

Joe Flores:

So, that's one key area that we think put us in a really good position. The other is that we really understand our role. We're not trying to create these huge waves of adoption. We're working in tandem with what's going on with the manufacturers of vehicles as well as the state, to be able to set the condition for adoption to happen. So for example, we started off with the governor making this move to make all new sales of vehicles to be all electric. Well, that starts to create a wave for us that we can then ride here on the local level to echo that information and get people ready for this adoption.

Lincoln Bleveans:

And I would add that when you look at what Joe and his team are doing and what our distribution crews are doing in terms of rolling out EV charging infrastructure, this is really a new business for the utilities. It's a new way of thinking about what we do in some pretty fundamental ways and I'll give you one example and that is, Burbank Water and Power has some of the best reliability statistics in the country. We are one of the most reliable utilities in the country and that's at the feeder level, but as we put out all this electric vehicle charging infrastructure, we have to make a decision and we really haven't come to ground on this yet, does our reliability promise, our reliability performance, extend out to the handle of that EV charger that has our logo on it.

Joe Flores:

And so it's a very different way of thinking of building out the system, putting these EV chargers out there is a brand new thing for our line crews, for our construction crews. And frankly, it's a brand new thing for our power system operators as well, to start to think of these EV chargers, not just as load that drives up, plugs in and drives away, but also something that ultimately at scale might be used to integrate renewables or otherwise help lower the cost and raise their ability of the power system locally.

Jason Price:

I want to probe a bit further about this investment decision that utilities need to make around supporting EVs. The utilities are factoring in investments around the make ready programs and with electric vehicle battery technology continuously improving, the concern about range anxiety, for example, may be a diminished concern as the industry continues to evolve. So help us understand, how does utility weigh the investments that it's going to need to make with a potential risk that it may not have needed to make the investment outright?

Lincoln Bleveans: 

I think there's an inherent advantage in the size of the individual EV charger investment. When we think about building a new power plant, for example, that's a one time, very large chunk of committed capital. Whereas EV chargers go in one at a time and relatively speaking, they're fairly inexpensive. So there's a way that we can modulator that investment and make decisions going forward on a much more granular level, on a much more unit by unit level, than we can with our more traditional infrastructure.

Lincoln Bleveans:

But there is, to your point, there is a real risk that our planning assumptions are based on our current understanding/fear of the capacity of batteries and that we're installing EV charging infrastructure to charge batteries that are really only at the beginning of finding range, only at the beginning of becoming a very, very long duration batteries.

Lincoln Bleveans:

So there is a risk there. I think it's moderated in large part by the fact that these are much smaller, less lumpy investments. But I think you then have to pull back and look at the mission of the utility, or at least this utility, and that is to serve the customer. And right now, the customer needs to be served by having charging capacity, charging available to them. To catalyze this movement toward EVs, to catalyze adoption and in a confident purchase decision. Every little purchase decision has to be made with confidence, every single consumer.

Lincoln Bleveans:

So I think there's a way to mitigate the stranded investment risk with the granularity of each investment decision, so to speak. But at the same time, I think you have to pull back and say, "What are we in this for?" We're not necessarily in this to get rich, we're in this to be a catalyst for customers switching over to and driving and loving electric vehicles.

Joe Flores:

Lincoln, so if I can tag onto that. I think that utilities can embrace the role that they have in this transformation process and part of that is having the consumers recognize that the EV experience in terms of refueling it is probably not going to be the same experience they have with a gas powered vehicle.

Joe Flores:

So for example, I think charging your EV is going to be probably more like charging your phone. You're going to do it where you have a lot of idle time rather than an event where you visit the station, you refuel, and then you leave. So when you think about where do you spend long periods of time for the traditional commuter it is, I spend time at home and I spend time at work. And so a lot of the EV infrastructure is going to be where do you have idle time?

Joe Flores:

At the beginning phases, the consumer's looking at it and saying, "Oh my goodness, where can I charge if I get stuck someplace on the road? Oh, they have these publicly available chargers." That's the initial role that we're playing upfront. It's kind of the showcase that says, "Hey, don't worry. We got your back if you leave home and you need charging, there's going to be stuff available to the public."

Joe Flores:

However, when you start really looking at adoption, the investment is going to be made at workplace charging as part of an amenity for attracting employees and keeping employees and at people's homes. I think that's the reality in terms of who's going to be making most of the investment, is it going to be the utility or is it going to be the end consumer? Well, if the idle time is being spent in property or infrastructure that's being controlled by the end consumer, that kind of answers the question of where's most of the investment going to come from.

Joe Flores:

So I think upfront the way here it is in California is that we're able to use this market carpet money that has been filtered down through the state for this first initial investment. And so we don't have to worry as much about that stranded investment, that risk to the ratepayer. Right now, we're going to be putting in a smaller fraction of the total public charging that's going to be available. It's going to get utilized but when you compare what infrastructure is going to be at people's homes or people's businesses, I think that's where most of the investment is going to go.

Joe Flores:

And so the utility now has a role of saying, "How can I be a great advisor to this company?" Because putting in EV infrastructure and being an operator of EV infrastructure comes with some complexity. If we can take away that complexity, I think they'd be more willing to make that investment and here in Burbank especially, we're situated between two major freeways. And so we have a lot of workers that are driving into the city and a whole lot of workers that are leaving the city. Workplace charging is an absolute must if we're going to do this transformation process.

Joe Flores: 

And if you're commuting from Burbank to, let's say, Los Angeles, which is about 17 miles away, and you don't have access to charging at your workplace, then you actually really have to have it at your home. And so you're going to be investing in that in your home and then we get back to the traditional role that utilities play. We're going to serve the load that's needed.

Jason Price:

Joe and Lincoln, I want to thank you both for your time today and for sharing your valued insights with our audience. Lincoln, best of luck at Stanford, and Joe, you'll have to carry on the tradition Lincoln started of appearing on the Power Perspectives once a year.

Jason Price:

You can reach Lincoln and Joe both through the energy central community at EnergyCentral.com, where they welcome your follow-up questions and comments. Once again, I'm your host, Jason Price. Plug in and stay fully charged in the discussion by hopping into the community at energycentral.com. See you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives podcast.

 


About Energy Central Podcasts

As a reminder, the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is always looking for the authors of the most insightful articles and the members with most impactful voices within the Energy Central community to invite them to discuss further so we can dive even deeper into these compelling topics. Posting twice per month (on the second and fourth Tuesdays), we'll seek to connect with professionals in the utility industry who are engaging in creative or innovative work that will be of interest to their colleagues and peers across the Energy Central community. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

Happy listening, and stay tuned for episode #19 in a few weeks! Like what you hear, have a suggestion for future episodes, or a question for our guest? Leave a note in the comments below.

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Thanks once again to the sponsors of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West MonroeEsri, Anterix, and ScottMadden

Discussions

Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 23, 2021

Lincoln, what is the CO2 footprint, in grams/mile, of an EV charged at one of BWP's charging stations? Since we're still relying on a coal plant in Utah (and the corresponding transmission losses) for 30% of our electricity, it seems it would likely be worse than a modern hybrid, or even a comparable diesel car.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 23, 2021

Using the UCUSA tool that factors in a local grid's energy mix, it looks like Burbank battery EVs on average emit 89 grams of CO2e per mile compared with 173 for plug-in hybrids and 381 for ICE cars: https://evtool.ucsusa.org/#z/91501/

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 24, 2021

Thanks, but my question was about BWP's specific mix, not "an average  of all electric utilities in a given region."

In general, the Union of Charlatans and Sophists is not a reliable source of knowledge about much of anything (its president is an attorney), except maybe dressing up in lab coats, and fundraising. For example, in the alternative universe they occupy residents can choose from which utility to buy their electricity:

"The actual emissions generated by charging an EV can also depend on factors not considered in this analysis, including but not limited to the electric utility you choose (we average emissions from all electric utilities in a given region), presence of home solar panels, voluntary purchase of lower-emission electricity, individual driving behavior, and the time of day that the vehicle is recharged."

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 24, 2021

https://www.burbankwaterandpower.com/electric/power-sources/power-content-information

The energy mix at BWP is about 30% non-hydro renewable, 30% coal, 29% gas, 8% nuclear, 2 % hydro, and 1% other. 

The national average mix is about 12% non-hydro renewable, 20% coal, 39% gas, 20% nuclear, 8% hydro, and 1% other. 

So it's true that the 59% of fossils at BWP leans more heavily on coal than the 59% nationally does, which increases the carbon intensity, but the benefit of the increasing EV efficiencies is that even in that case it's still definitely cleaner on a per-mile basis. Analysis using GREET confirms this for virtually every grid in the U.S., actually. 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Feb 26, 2021

Yet if customers charge at Night Off Peak like most EV drivers do they make no pollution since it's excess power the utility needs to use or dump. So EVen in an area like West Virginia that is mostly COAL they can help the GRID. We always need to look at the entire system.

   In FACT look at the amount of energy used to refine Oil into gasoline. Studies I have read say it's up to 8 kWh per gallon. The gas needs to be transported to a gas station. Pumped into the storage tanks. They use more electricity to pump it into the vehicle. Some also evaporates before being burned in a very inefficient gas motor that is only 20-30% efficient. EVen is a Hybrid it's a loser.  

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