The smart grid is coming! And so are (again, finally) electric cars! Want to know how this makes Ted Craver, the president and CEO of electric power generator and distributor Edition International, feel? Excited. And scared.
“We’re looking at the confluence of public policy, environmental issues writ large, and enabling technologies that are really going to change our industry, and our company, dramatically. We’re going to be dealing with more industries, which means more change and stress on business models,” he told a group of journalists touring Southern California Edison’s Electric Vehicle (EV) Tech Center in Pomona, Calif., on Friday. “It’s exciting, a little scary, and [it's] something that will determine the future of this company for the next 100 years.”
We’ve written before about the growing interdependency between automakers who are developing electric vehicles and the utility providers that will provide the fuel for these cars. And we’ve heard from Ford about its work in developing its electric vehicle program and the partnerships it is forming with utility providers.
But what do utility providers have to say about this new vision for transportation?
Last week, Edison International offered to bring a Triple Pundit reporter down to Pomona, Calif., to tour Southern California Edison’s Electric Vehicle Tech Center and to attend a press conference with Craver and Ed Kjaer, the director of EV Tech Center. So I accepted the offer—and the Edison-sponsored air travel—and went to SoCal to learn more.
SCE believes that electric vehicles will fundamentally change the ways in which its customers interact with the company and how they think about their personal energy consumption. As drivers, we are used to comparing gas prices and doing maintenance such as keeping our tires properly inflated, in order to improve fuel efficiency. When operating an EV, that effort to lower the cost of fueling the car will require working more closely with our utility providers.
“When you put an electrical plug into a car, suddenly, two titan industries—the auto industry and the utilities industry—are sharing a customer,” said Kjaer, as he guided us through the EV Tech Center.
This might seem like a burdensome position for SCE to assume—after all, ensuring a safe and steady source of electrical power to 5 million ratepayers in Southern California (especially when temperatures skyrocket and demand soars) is a major undertaking in itself. But if driving electric vehicles makes its customers more active managers of their energy consumption—a likely byproduct of having to pay higher electric bills once they start juicing up their new rides—then they may help SCE make the electrical grid more efficient.
SoCal’s warm temperatures are at the heart of this. Because electricity can’t be stored, SCE always has to generate enough energy (and purchase enough energy from other producers) to ensure it can provide all the power ratepayers want, to do things such as run air conditioners. On a hot August afternoon, that demand spikes. Now, add electric vehicles into the mix. A single EV can pull the equivalent of an entire household’s worth of electricity from a neighborhood transformer. If a number of residents on a single block purchased EVs and drove them home at around 5:30 on that hot August afternoon, and then immediately plugged in those cars to recharge their batteries, there’s a good chance that transformer would blow.
But, if those EV drivers have smart meters—and, by the time EVs start rolling into SoCal driveways in substantial numbers, SCE should have most of its ratepayers’ meters upgraded—then they’ll have the ability to program their vehicles to start charging up only after demand on the grid is no longer peaking.
The potential for consumers to better manage their electricity consumption—not just with their EVs, but also with smart appliances and home energy management software—is awesome. But still, there is plenty for Craver to worry about. Even though 16 percent of the electricity that SCE provides is generated using renewable energy, that stat needs to improve—the state of California is requiring a 20 percent mix of renewable energy (originally 2010 was the deadline but utilities are getting a bit of leeway to meet the deadline).
So as it prepares its electrical grid to accommodate smart meters and transmission lines that can feed more renewable energy into the grid, SCE is also reaching out to potential EV drivers, in order to learn about what their expectations and interests are with respect to owning and driving electric vehicles. In fact, if you’re an SCE customer and are mulling the pros and cons of EVs, take a look at the SCE site to learn about how to get plug-in ready.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a deeper dive into the EV Tech Center and discuss specific projects it is undertaking, such as the Garage of the Future.