Hydropower

Panel: EVs Key to Canada’s Smart Grid

Electric vehicles will soon hit Canada’s roads, but they already play a role in the smart grid as the country modernizes its electric system in pursuit of clean air targets.

“We still have a lot of challenges in adopting electric vehicles,” Tom Odell, manager of EVs for Toronto Hydro Electric Systems, said during a panel discussion at last week’s OCE Discovery 11 conference. “We see the smart grid as part of the solution.”

Ontario Power Authority (OPA), the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) and regional utilities are collaborating with Mercedes, Toyota, General Motors and Nissan to prepare for the introduction of plug-in EVs to Canada this fall.

Ontario hopes incentives will ensure that one out of every 20 vehicles will be electrically powered by 2020, according to the Second Report of the Ontario Smart Grid Forum, May 11. A smart grid pilot program with Mercedes is studying the driving and EV charging patterns of 15 Toronto Hydro customers over four years. Customers are provided charging stations, power meter, and free charging and maintenance.

Ontario is approaching the creation of its first smart grid since all homes and businesses already have smart meters and General Electric is building a $40 million smart grid innovation center in the province. The United States government has set aside $11 billion for smart grid research and development. U.S. utilities have installed at least 21 million smart meters across the country as of 2010. More than 90 U.S. utilities plan to introduce nearly 60 million additional meters, according to the Ontario Smart Grid Forum.

About 19 million cars travel on Canada’s roads today. Phil Petsinis of General Motors of Canada Inc. said the country could add up to 1 million electric vehicles without experiencing an impact to the grid.

“It would consume less than 1% of the total grid generation,” he said of EVs. “The total energy these vehicles would take from the grid (is) very insignificant.”

The Chevrolet Volt consumes about 2,500 kilowatt hours per year, roughly the equivalent of an air condition unit, Petsinis said. He anticipates lower impact if EV owners charge vehicles overnight, during off-peak hours. But utilities are still concerned that rapid deployment of EVs could overheat transformers in neighborhoods with clusters of plug-in cars.

“We’re ready for the number of EVs that will probably be out in the next short while, but are we ready for thousands of EVs right now? No, there’s work that needs to be done,” said Cara Clairman, Ontario Power Generation’s vice president for sustainable development.

Ontario is prepared for EV owners to charge cars at home, but public charging stations are not yet available.

“We don’t have enough to give people that security about range anxiety,” she said.

Vehicles can be charged at home over 8 hours with a 120-volt outlet. Canadian officials are developing a financial assistance program to help homeowners with costs of installing 240-volt stations capable of charging cars at home in less than one hour.

Most of the first-generation EVs, however, are supported by gasoline backup for extended-range capabilities. 

For more on the interviews with Cara Clairman and Phil Petsinis, watch the video below: