Midwest EV growth lands at utility, regulatory doorstep

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2018

More than 60,000 electric vehicles will be on central U.S. roadways by 2030, requiring utility involvement and regulatory oversight to ensure that all consumers — regardless of whether they own a plug-in car — benefit from the new surge of electricity demand.

That was a central message of a briefing yesterday by the Midcontinent Transportation Electrification Collaborative (M-TEC), a group of more than two dozen companies and government agencies in the central United States.

The group was organized a year and a half ago to shape the dialogue happening around EV policy and regulation. Members include utilities such as Xcel Energy Inc. and WPPI Energy, automakers General Motors Co. and Nissan Motor Co., state and local agencies, charging equipment providers, and environmental advocates.

M-TEC hosted a web briefing to update a reportissued earlier this year laying out principles to ensure that EV adoption leads to environmental and consumer benefits.

Brendan Jordan, vice president of the nonprofit Great Plains Institute, which convened M-TEC, said utilities will have a part in helping build out infrastructure. But they’re just part of the solution.

“This is a big ecosystem, and in no way should we expect utilities to do everything,” he said.

Britta Gross, director of advanced vehicle commercialization at GM, said that even moderate projections for EV penetration suggest a need for a huge build-out of charging infrastructure. That includes direct-current fast-charger sites.

According to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory reportlast fall, the states represented by M-TEC had 157 DC fast plugs, and a twentyfold increase would be needed to support the EVs expected to be on the road by 2030.

Gross said the industry has a lot to learn about what consumers are willing to pay to fast-charge their cars.

Half of Chevrolet Volt drivers and 30 percent of Chevrolet Bolt drivers still charge their cars with a Level 1 charger at home.

“You can charge easily overnight while you sleep,” she said. “So willingness to pay for [DC fast charging] is really key.”

One Midwest utility deeply involved with transportation electrification is Minneapolis-based Xcel, which developed a series of EV pilot projects in its home state aimed at three core markets: home charging, fleets and public charging.

A residential service pilot project launched in late August is aimed at steering more EV drivers to take advantage of a lower rate during nighttime hours when there’s more cheap wind energy on the grid.

“Home charging is a good match for us,” said Mathias Bell, who oversees EV initiatives for the utility. “We want our customers to charge at night as much as possible.”

While state regulators and consumer advocates agree that more infrastructure is necessary to support EVs, they’re also cautious to ensure that ratepayer investments benefit all consumers and don’t subsidize EV owners.

Norm Saari, a member of the Michigan Public Service Commission, said the agency’s focus today is on public education, EV charging rates and the effect of significant vehicle penetration on the grid. The 16,000 EVs on the road in Michigan are consuming 56,000 megawatt-hours of energy a year, Saari said.

Even using a moderate EV-penetration forecast for Michigan from Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests there will be 150,000 EVs using 550,000 MWh in 2024, the equivalent of 66,000 homes.

“These are staggering numbers that you look forward to,” Saari said.

Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota, said her group’s mission is to ensure that ratepayer funds directed to EV charging investments produce a net benefit for all consumers.

Initially, that means incentivizing nighttime charging with time-varying rates. As EV penetration grows, utilities should use so-called smart charging to also make sure local distribution circuits aren’t overloaded.

“When the charging happens is crucial,” Levenson-Falk said.