How electric vehicles could be used to future-proof Floridas grid for extreme weather
Florida has witnessed an increase in extreme weather events as a result of the changing climate. When Hurricane Irma hit in September 2017, about 5.8 million homes and businesses were left without power, its residents staying in darkness and tropical heat with no air-conditioning, indoor temperatures reached the mid-90s. In some cases, it took twelve days before the power was fully restored.
Managing power outages is not all about comfort, more importantly, it is about safety. Several medical and assisted-living facilities were left with magnetic door-locks, assisted bed-lifts and other vital equipment not working. Elevators stopped which limited the ability to transport residents. The impact was so severe that some facilities had to be evacuated due to hazardous conditions.
With hurricane activity is likely to increase in the future as a result of climate change, tropical cyclones will become more frequent and more intense. Many Utilities have taken notice and are implementing measures to future-proof the grid. As an example, Florida Power and Light (FPL), spent $3 billion in preparation for the storm. The money was used to strengthen power lines for facilities, burying power lines underground, clearing vegetation, and installing 4.9 million “smart meters” on residential buildings. Even with all of these efforts, the hurricane caused widespread power disruptions. How can the grid be made more resilient to weather, natural disasters, and other failures? Electric vehicles could be the answer.
Electric vehicles could be used to power houses and emergency shelters in emergency events caused by extreme weather
Electric vehicles are able to store a large capacity of electrical energy. As such, they could be widely used in the future as sources of backup power storage. Modern EVs are able to store more power than the average amount of power used in a typical household. In areas that experience extreme weather events, vehicle-to-home (V2H) technology could be used to power households from EVs in the event of a power outage. This reserve power supply from EVs could be used during emergencies to power lighting, cooking, air conditioning or heating. Or during non-emergency times such as daily time-of-use (TOU) pricing where electricity from the grid is priced at a premium.
Already, EV’s have successfully demonstrated this ability in various pilot programs, research, and limited use implementations. Wildfires in the Sierra Nevada Mountains forced residents of Calaveras County to seek refuge in a shelter powered by plug-in electric vehicles until the power was restored. When the city of Napa was hit by an earthquake, the local fire department lost electricity and could not pump fuel into their trucks. EVs were used to power the equipment needed to get these emergency vehicles up and running again.
Florida has experienced hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, and other natural disasters. These events are likely to become more prevalent and fiercer with the effects of climate change. Due to their ability to store and release electric power, EVs can be a valuable resource during disaster relief efforts which could in the future become an integral part of the emergency planning in Florida.
How electric vehicles could stabilize electric grids in Florida
Similar to vehicle-to-home technology, but on a much larger scale, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies could use electric vehicles to create a more resilient electric grid. On average, passenger vehicles remain parked an average of 95% of their overall lifetime, that time could be rendered productive. Harnessing the energy storage of some 226,000 electric vehicles in Florida, a ‘virtual power plant’ could be aggregated to help stabilize the grid during peak-demand times or grid outages caused by extreme weather.
Electric cars manufacturers have been attracted to the opportunities V2G could provide. Nissan has been testing different vehicle-to-grid (V2G) systems for years and, at present, all of its next-gen Leaf models are capable of V2G. Mitsubishi, BMW, Honda, and Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks will also offer V2G. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, recently announced he was open to revisiting using the technology in Tesla cars. This could be a game-changer for managing and responding to grid outages.
How mass EV adoption could impact Floridas electric utilities
The use of electric vehicles is on the rise. By 2038, more electric cars will be sold globally than those running on fossil fuels, and by 2040, every third car will be a plug-in, according to a Bloomberg forecast. This is a huge shift in the market that creates both opportunities and threats for power companies. Utilities that adapt quickly are poised to reap substantial benefits and establish themselves as the leaders of adoption. Those lagging behind, on the other hand, are likely to be left with unserved customers and lost profits.
In the United States, a typical electric car is estimated to use 261 kWh monthly, increasing the household demand for electricity by 25 to 40%, a significant spike. The expansion of EVs creates, therefore, a massive and long-term growth opportunity for power companies suffering from recent declines in electricity sales revenue.
If not managed adequately, can also impose significant pressure on the grid. Imagine all EV owners charging their cars more or less at the same time. And this is not just a theoretical situation – research conducted on EV users have shown most of the drivers charge their cars in the early evening, after returning home from work, more or less at the time when all other energy-consuming household appliances are turned on. Another problem can occur when more than one electric car is connected to the same transformer when charging. This situation, known as charge clustering, can cause damage to utilities’ electrical equipment, reduce the lifespan of components and lead to outages.
How Florida’s utilities are preparing for the increase of electric cars
Utilities are responsible for ensuring the reliability and resilience of the power system. This includes meeting the normal electrical demand on the grid as well as responding to extreme weather events which cause grid outages by taking down power lines. In the future, it will also require the management of electric vehicle charging. Modern EVs are capable of charging quickly and storing more electrical power than the average household uses in a day. Because of this, they pose a potential risk to local grid systems which may not be robust enough to supply the electricity required at any given time. The result is infrastructure decay leading to localized power outages. On a large enough scale, with the sudden mass adoption of electric vehicles, this has the potential to wreak havoc for electric utilities across the nation.
To mitigate this risk electric utilities have begun profiling the electrical load of electric vehicles, driving and charging habits. This localized database will provide detailed information required to create accurate growth forecasts. Providing the ability to accurately predict high-use areas and plan the roll-out of adequate infrastructure as well as pricing plans to ensure the grid remains reliable.
Duke Energy Florida is acting by launching Duke Energy Charge FL an electric vehicle study to understand the impact of growing EV charging demands on the grid. This volunteer program for Florida EV drivers will be used to plan for the future of EV charging in the State of Florida.
Salt River Project, one of Arizona’s largest utilities, in co-operation with the Electric Power Research Institute and FleetCarma, has conducted a study to find out how the growing number of EV users will impact the grid and, in particular, how much electricity EVs use, when the peak time starts, and if their current price plans are effective to incentivize drivers to charge during off-peak hours.
Nebraska’s Lincoln Electric System (LES) has conducted a similar study to determine when and where, and for how long drivers are charging their cars, how long their car trips are, as well as to gather information about the batteries’ state of charge.
In SmartCharge Nashville project, data such as EVs driving and charging history, energy consumption statistics, vehicle battery state-of-charge was collected and analyzed to help Tennessee utilities, namely Nashville Electric Service and Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, understand how to prepare better for a growing number of electric vehicles in their service areas.
How managed charging will help Florida electric utilities and drivers alike
The ability to measure EV charging introduces the possibility of managing charging. This could be done at a single location like a fleet depot, parking lot or individual public charging stations. Management of charging could also be aggregated to a local grid sector, or more widely many or all parts of the grid. Managed charging or smart charging connects the charging status and battery state-of-charge of electric vehicles with a controller which intelligently schedules or throttles charging via networked charging stations. In this manner, EV owners can expect to receive enough of a charge for their commute and avoid peak-demand charging. Electric utilities gain a means to modulate power demand across the grid.
Even without smart-charging network connectivity and utility control, utilities may be able to positively influence how EV drivers choose to charge their vehicles. In SmartCharge New York by ConEdison New York powered by FleetCarma, a Geotab company, drivers were supplied with connected car technology which rewarded off-peak charging with rewards. Also, participants of the San Diego Gas & Electric’s pilot program could take advantage of special charging rates when the electricity supply was plentiful. Other utilities, including Toronto Hydro, BC Hydro, and New Brunswick Power have run managed charging programs to both profile EV charging demand and measure the ability to influence off-peak charging.
A growing number of large companies, including Walmart and UPS, are electrifying their fleet as a part of the transition to the low-carbon economy. Smart charging provides sustainability, fleet and building managers the ability to intelligently shift EV charging off-peak. This ability makes for effortless participation in commercial peak-demand pricing schemes with meaningful savings potential.
The future of electric vehicles in Florida
With the increasing intensity of extreme weather events in the State of Florida, electric utilities have invested in greater levels of preparedness measures, increasing the reliability and resilience of the electric grid. Unfortunately, hurricanes, tornados and wildfires are a formidable match and are predicted to become more common and more intense with time. Today, electric utilities are presented with the requirement to study, plan for, and upgrade infrastructure prior to the looming sudden transition from internal combustion engine vehicles. With the concurrence of extreme weather, the requirement to support EVs with infrastructure, and the latent potential of EVs to be used as a backup power source; it is the perfect time to incorporate electric vehicle smart charging technology in grid planning.