O Give Me a Home where the Electric Vehicles do Roam

Electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) were a hot topic at last week’s National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) summer session. There were many interesting discussions, and it’s important to be aware of them as regulatory commissions will influence decisions about the Smart Grid infrastructure that must be built to support the anticipated proliferation of EVs and PHEVs.
EVs and PHEVs can play several roles in the Smart Grid. They may not only take electricity from the grid or from a building, but they can also be used to return electricity under certain conditions. Their strategic importance as collective energy storage can help set the agenda for the construction of new power generation sources – how much new energy is needed for peak demand, and how much of that peak demand could be intelligently managed with storage.
But underlying all these questions is something of a more fundamental nature: How to manage billing for consumers with roaming EVs/PHEVs that need to recharge? The answer has significant implications for regulatory agencies, utilities, manufacturers and consumers regarding the infrastructure for EVs and PHEVs, the design of batteries (speed of charge and discharge), the use of EVs and PHEVs in electricity demand projections and changing load shapes, the software to manage EV/PHEV billing, and the costs of electricity to consumers.
With today’s current grid, if you drive your EV or PHEV to a friend’s house and plug in there to recharge, your friend will get the bill for the electricity you consumed to recharge your battery. My friends are generous to a fault, but I’m not accustomed to asking them to reimburse me for the gasoline used driving to and from their homes, and my EV/PHEV shouldn’t ask that of them either. Here are a three options that could help form that infrastructure and handle this billing question.
1. Street side charging stations that activate charging with a credit card. The upside – it’s simple and convenient. The downside – it’s hard enough to find parking in many urban areas – try finding a parking spot with a charging station. Wild card – impacts the electricity demand in a utility footprint, and seems to be set up to mostly draw electricity from the grid, not deliver it back to the grid. Bottom line – requires lots of buildout of hard infrastructure like streets, sidewalks, additional electrical lines. Who pays for that?
2. Utility billing software that uses the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as the unique identifier. The upside – your EV/PHEV roaming charges appear on your utility bill. The utility may offer great EV rate plans if you agree to let them use your car for energy storage and only recharge at certain times. The downside – utilities’ software systems are not set up today to accommodate anything other than a meter, and roaming often crosses utility boundaries. Deploying these sorts of solutions will incur utility costs that need to be recovered. Wild card –just how scary-looking is that utility billing system. Can it be modified without sending electricity rates sky-high for expensive cost recovery? Bottom line – less hard infrastructure required, but lots of soft infrastructure needed in the form of software.
3. Third party companies that manage the roaming charge processes and negotiates with utilities to set up rate plans for EV/PHEV owners. The upside – reduces the software burden on utilities, they only worry about the millions of meters out there, not the additional millions of cars. These third parties may become energy aggregators that can offer wide scale storage management. The downside – these companies don’t exist, or haven’t come across my radar yet. Wild card – Would utilities work with them? Bottom line – costs are off-loaded from utilities and ratepayers, risks and rewards stay with EV/PHEV owners and these aggregators.
Your local regulatory agencies will have key roles in influencing the options outlined here as well as other possibilities. As much as they don’t want to pick winners and losers in different technologies and services, they will work to keep electricity rates low for consumers.
In the meantime, many people are involved in defining standards for interoperability and security that includes these scenarios. The Smart Grid will have the intelligence and the bandwidth to accommodate millions of EVs and PHEVs, and we’ll give the same amount of thought to where and when we drive as we give to our mobile phone calls – our behaviors and bills will be based on our local or national charging/discharging plans.