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Electric Vehicles – All That’s Left to do is Everything

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Gasoline is an extremely powerful fuel—the amount of energy it contains is simply amazing. Watch the continuous stream of heavy vehicles flowing along a highway and ask yourself—What if electric utilities had to deliver all the energy currently supplied by gasoline/diesel? A huge impact! Electric vehicles (EV) are not the norm yet, but they are gaining ground, and utilities need proper tools to prepare. Are we approaching the EV tipping point?

I attended an EV symposium in 2012. The Nissan Leaf was new on the market. The convention center filled with environmentally hopeful automotive enthusiasts. As the utility’s field manager, my interest was where and how EV’s would impact the electric system.

Manufacturers each hyped their particular EV solution and painted optimistic pictures of swift transportation electrification. Then Ford took the stage.

Ford had done their homework. Ford promised exceptionally efficient gasoline vehicles until customers were ready for electric cars and the charging infrastructure emerged. What? Instantly, the oxygen got sucked out of the room!

A few isolated EVs are no big deal—it's normal utility work to replace a few undersized transformers. But when EVs become commonplace—that will be another story altogether. How would utilities keep up with a flood of EVs? What about power quality issues and the required system upgrades? Could they ever catch up? Several signs indicate that EVs are getting more popular—much more popular.  

The best-known EV? Of course, Tesla.

The Tesla Model 3 is considered a luxury sport sedan like the BWM 3 Series. BMW makes a great car—a real driving machine. A friend once told me, "Once you go BMW, you can never go back." Maybe he was wrong.

According to CleanTechnica, in 2019, the Q2 USA Tesla Model 3 (47,000 units) outsold the BMW 2, 3, 4, and 5 series combined (31,134 units)! Only after adding to that the sales of the Audi A3, A4, A5, and A6 would you exceed the Tesla sales. Wow—something changed. This is an enormous shift from the recent past where quarterly sales for the Model 3 were only around 8,000 units.

Seven years later, what does Ford say now? Ford recently announced its EV charging network that will eclipse Tesla's superchargers—perfect timing for the launch of its electric Mustang Mach-E and Tesla's controversial Cybertruck with its easily-broken windows! Yes indeed, something changed. Amazon announced the purchase of 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2024. The US Post Office is looking at electric options to replace 850,000 postal vans. It is time to make sure utilities are ahead of this and make a good plan.

Like most utility concerns, where things take place is crucial. Where EVs charge is essentially important. Distribution planning engineers hope charging occurs evenly across the entire service territory—but it does not. EVs moved around like big two-story houses on wheels. They also tend to appear in clumps—at workplaces, shopping malls, and within certain demographics. This raises some important questions:

  • Where will utilities need to deliver or facilitate gasoline replacement energy?
  • Where is the impact on assets?
  • Where are the loading constraints?
  • Where are system improvements needed?

Wrap-Up

Utilities need leading-edge data science tools to address the business questions of transportation electrification. Traditionally conservative and static planning models were fine for slow, steady growth but are woefully inadequate for unexpected changes like when Tesla outsells combined blocks of superb German sport sedans. 

Haphazardly chasing EVs to mend the grid casualties is not a career-enhancing strategy. Think trend spotting, early hot spot recognition, and predictive forecasting—these are the hot tickets.

ArcGIS provides powerful ways to model, analyze, and visualize the entire grid from generation sources all the way to electric vehicles. New utility network models analyze EV concerns by correlating the entire grid with real-time data and novel consumer demographics.

Austin Energy in Texas uses these rich demographics to find likely EV drivers and target their messages with great success. Another western utility uses machine learning in ArcGIS to accurately predict where solar and EV charging will materialize next.

These are outstanding ways to bring data together in one place, apply location technology, understand it, and extract valuable business intelligence. These are the techniques necessary to not only survive but capitalize on transportation electrification. As the EV tipping point approaches, now is the time to build this straightforward capability within utility organizations.

For more information on how ArcGIS helps utilities use location technology to address challenges like transportation electrification download our free ebook.

Pat  Hohl's picture

Thank Pat for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 18, 2019 2:29 pm GMT

Traditionally conservative and static planning models were fine for slow steady growth but are woefully inadequate for unexpected changes like when Tesla outsells combined blocks of superb German sport sedans

Great insight on how traditional models don't necessarily hold when looking at transformative tech-- curious if you think the same would apply to big leaps in innovation in energy generation, T&D, etc.?

Rami Reshef's picture
Rami Reshef on Dec 25, 2019 3:09 pm GMT

Hi Pat,

Great post, thanks for sharing these important insights! No question that it is complicated to forecast energy use when EVs are moving targets - and add to that issues of Time of Use, which will certainly impact EV owners - and moreso fleet owners - in deciding where and when to charge the vehicles. Seems that just as the Teslas' go-to-market was less than smooth, so it is likely that it won't take too many incidents of outages caused by EV strain on utility grids to create a lot of problems for utilities and for the EV market as a whole. Will ArcGIS be able to prevent these incidents? What do you think, which will disrupt the automotive industry more, EVs or FCEVs? Will it be easier for utilities to integrate FCEVs than EVs into their ecosystems? How will all these technologies coexist, and can location technology assist with this process? 

Victoria Hudson's picture
Victoria Hudson on Dec 26, 2019 7:02 pm GMT

Thanks for sharing this. Intrigulingly, this article confirms one issue related to the lack of EV owners (price): EV purchases primarily are by high- six-figure income earners. Typical USA auto drivers do not purchase BMWs or spend $50K on a Tesla. The article also brought to mind - because of the issues of prolonged power outages - of how utilities would safeguard individual ability to vacate a disaster area (say, the California wildfires) if one cannot charge the EV because power is out and the fires caught one unprepared. 

The Tesla Model 3 is considered a luxury sport sedan like the BWM 3 Series. BMW makes a great car—a real driving machine. A friend once told me, "Once you go BMW, you can never go back." Maybe he was wrong.

According to CleanTechnica, in 2019, the Q2 USA Tesla Model 3 (47,000 units) outsold the BMW 2, 3, 4, and 5 series combined (31,134 units)! Only after adding to that the sales of the Audi A3, A4, A5, and A6 would you exceed the Tesla sales. Wow—something changed. This is an enormous shift from the recent past where quarterly sales for the Model 3 were only around 8,000 units.

Pat  Hohl's picture
Pat Hohl on Dec 26, 2019 8:27 pm GMT

Excellent observation Victoria. It reminds me somewhat of when cell phones were only used by the "rich"...

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 26, 2019 10:53 pm GMT

You don't even have to leave the transportation sector-- cars at all were once for the rich. Or owning two cars in one household. Or combining the examples-- car phones! It's a sometimes uncomfortable truth, but the wealthy are certainly granted early access to these important and transformative techs

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