How Smart?

The draft climate change bill released by House Democrats on March 31 calls on electric utilities to create a new infrastructure that will revolutionize the U.S. transportation system. Smart Grid technology will run it and clean electricity will power it.

In the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the Clean Energy Title (Title I) calls for the development of an electric vehicle infrastructure that would support the use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and electric vehicles. Utilities will be weighing the merits of battery exchange and fast-charging infrastructure and other services. State regulators will also have a role to play. Among other directives, they will evaluate pricing options that would enable PHEVs and electric vehicles “to contribute to meeting peak-load power needs.”

If ever the over-used term “paradigm shift” was apt, this is it. The renewable energy requirements and global warming provisions in the draft bill came as no surprise but how much of a sea change are utility operations and power generators slated for as the smart grid technologies take control?

“I would say we’re asking the automotive industry to revolutionize the way they build cars and we’re asking the utility industry to make sure we can charge those cars,” Mark Duvall, director of electric transportation at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), told Power Engineering.

The benefits of using electricity for a transportation fuel have rarely been in doubt, he said, and the challenge now for the auto makers is customer adoption and cost. On the utility side, it’s a different story.

Gas Station of the Future

“Utilities are the gas stations of the future and we still have a lot to do to understand what that means,” Duvall said. He sees this as an opportunity for utilities to show real leadership. “They have the scale, the relationships and the knowledge of all the stakeholders in their regions.”

As far as powering the new system, there’s plenty of electricity and capacity in the near term and what upgrades would be needed would be easy for utilities to make. “They did it for air conditioning and for big new loads like plasma TVs. This is not outside the ordinary. It’s not a big deal. Ten million PHEVs would represent less than 1 percent of the electric load in 2010.”

In the short term, Jim Owen, Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) media relations director, said these evolving technologies are unlikely to significantly alter the current generation portfolio. “The longer-term scenario remains unclear and will hinge significantly on the development of other technologies, along with evolving environmental and transmission policies.”

On the distribution side is where utilities will be the busiest, building home infrastructure and making sure customers are on the right rate programs or demand response programs, Duvall said.

“Home infrastructure is a critical piece,” he said. “There will be some workplace charging infrastructure and some public charging, but it will mostly be at the home.”

What utilities get in return is an extremely beneficial load. “The societal value proposition is very strong,” said Duvall.

No Unfair Penalties

The American Public Power Association (APPA) told Power Engineering that analysts are still reviewing the bill. But they view the provisions favorably as long as the policies reduce net societal carbon emissions across the transportation and electricity sectors, provide partial or full value, including carbon credits, to utilities for the associated emission reductions resulting from using electricity as a low carbon transportation fuel and include provisions that do not unfairly penalize utilities economically. Instead, they look for utilities to be given credit for taking on transportation sector emissions with PHEVs and other electric vehicles.

The bill supports rapid deployment of smart grid technologies. In Sec. 143 of the Clean Energy Title, “Smart Grid Peak Demand Reduction Goals,” load-serving entities (or states) would publish peak demand reduction goals that could be achieved by “an aggressive effort to deploy Smart Grid and peak demand reduction technologies” such as demand response programs and distributed dynamic electric storage. Also included is a reduction option from smart appliances and equipment with Smart Grid capability and “megawatts from a demonstrated and assured minimum of distributed solar electric generation capacity in instances where peak period and peak load conditions are directly related to solar radiation and accompanying heat.”

Owen said once smart grid technologies are widely implemented they will help customers and utilities save money and energy through efficiency gains and by empowering customers to make wise choices about electricity use.

Distributed Storage

Once plug-in hybrids have been widely adopted across the United States, a potential will grow over time for returning some battery-stored electricity from those vehicles to the grid, he said.

EPRI is working to ensure that the vehicle is an integral part of the new smart infrastructure. This will benefit utilities that are bringing more renewables into their generation portfolios or that want to increase asset utililization as peak load grows in proportion to average load.

“PHEVs could be No. 1 as far as providing distributed storage free or almost at cost,” said Duvall.

The whole program could take about five years to take off, starting with the commercial introduction of PHEVs in 2010. “It looks like we’re finally going to see real leadership out of Washington, he said. “If we can get to a million PHEVs in eight years that would be impressive,” he said. “The next 18 months will be pretty exciting.”

Nancy Spring is senior editor at Power Engineering.

This article was originally published by Power Engineering and was reprinted with permission.

[Note:  For more on the Smart Grid, listen to the podcast this month.  Stepehn Lacey, Podcast producer will be examining the smart grid and grid storage technologies in four podcasts during the month of April. Click here for more.]

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