Our Insights

Energy Storage and EVs: Ready or not, here they come

April 14, 2020

Takeaways from PDDC 2020

By Jason Marenda, Distribution Engineering Department Manager

The innovation panel at PDDC discussed how AI and automation will impact engineering and the energy industry as a whole.

Each year, POWER holds its annual Power Delivery Design Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. We bring a few hundred energy experts to a ski resort, where we learn about the latest industry trends and the future of energy. Usually, there are a few common themes that leap out to attendees: last year, for example, we heard a lot about renewable portfolio standards and commitments to carbon-free energy.

This year, we still heard a lot about renewables, but the focus had shifted from the fact that they were becoming more prevalent to discussing what needs to happen in order to make carbon-free energy a reality. Which meant that a common theme, especially throughout the general sessions, was the avalanche of battery energy storage and electric vehicles heading the industry’s way. While the specifics changed from speaker to speaker, they all agreed that we needed to be prepared for it.

Changing loads

David Treichler of Oncor (far left in the photo above) had some of the most specific examples. He spoke about how Oncor had been doing some research on the locations of different distribution centers combined with the number of vehicles and the power needs if these distributors were to convert to all-electric fleets. Utilities’ traditional distribution planning processes haven’t had to consider things like distribution center density. But going forward, this type of analysis needs to be included or, we won’t be able to properly serve the electrical needs of our customers.

Since many of these distribution centers and industrial facilities are located near other similar companies, the electrical needs for an all-electric fleet will be significantly higher in certain locations. Think about what you know of distribution centers: they’re usually located in industrial centers with a few other similar businesses nearby, not by themselves in a residential neighborhood. This means concentrated load centers in industrial areas.

Changing industry

One day, could a car like this one drive itself to a charging station to make itself a resource to the grid? Probably, according to experts.

Both residential electric vehicles and commercial/industrial EV fleets will drastically change how our industry will look in ten years. Mark McVey of Dominion and Larry Bekkedahl of PGE each talked about how much they expect their customers to increase the adoption of EVs. Larry estimated that by 2050, EVs will make up 20% of PGE’s load. It is going to be hard to support that level of charging by just having chargers at homes and places of work. People use their vehicles for more than just commuting, and even if that’s their vehicle’s main purpose, they and may not live or work in a location with the infrastructure necessary for plug-in charging. For example, in urban areas, people don’t park in the same lot or spot every time—but their vehicles still need to be charged.

So, how will we adapt? One solution that David discussed was looking at ways to combine the design of an EV charger, 5G antenna, and smart streetlight on the same pole. Additionally, if the EV industry can develop the V2G (Vehicle to Grid) concept that allows EVs to not only schedule charge at times of low demand but also to be used as a resource during periods of high demand, then this adoption rate will likely increase even faster.

Changing technology

The innovation panel at PDDC talked a lot about artificial intelligence and the automation of many different tasks. What if that technology was applied to EVs and the V2G concept? In a time of really high demand, what if a utility was able to put out a signal that it needed more resources and your car wasn’t plugged in? Could your car receive that signal and drive itself to a charging location so that it could be used as a resource? What if a portable charging unit was automatically deployed to your car? You don’t have to think too long to realize that self-driving electric cars present a number of options for changing how we approach vehicle charging, especially if the technology that allows EV batteries to be used to put energy back onto the grid and wireless charging continues to evolve.

POWER is committed to staying on top of the EV and distributed storage industry developments and what those mean to our customers. Listening to the type of people speak that we had at the general session of the conference is a great way to stay informed on what is happening.