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Navigating the Future of Grid Planning for Electric Vehicles


Throughout 2023, Telos Energy worked with the Energy Systems Integration Group (ESIG) and a broad industry task force about distribution planning for electric vehicles.  The result was a report titled "Charging Ahead: Grid Planning for Vehicle Electrification" and an accompanying webinar. This document outlines the challenges and opportunities that arise from the rapidly growing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and their impact on our power systems. Here, we quickly highlight the key insights and recommendations from the report.


The Rise of EVs and Grid Challenges

The widespread adoption of EVs is not a distant future scenario; it's our present reality. With rapid EV adoption comes a need for smart approaches to grid planning. However, despite interest in and commitments to EVs from consumers, manufacturers, and policymakers, distribution system planning for vehicle electrification remains a challenge. Public charging sites require relatively little supporting infrastructure beyond the electrical equipment and the charger itself.  This means that utilities have much less time to upgrade distribution system infrastructure for public charging sites compared with new loads historically.


Because of the speed of adoption, distribution system planners may need to build out distribution system capacity in advance of new service requests. Carrying out such a forward-looking build-out means more uncertainties than the just-in-time planning that utilities have typically performed, thus bringing with it a greater risk of wrong-sizing the grid.

 

To address this challenge, the paper recommends improving forecasting, embracing smart charging, incorporating future-ready equipment throughout the distribution system, and promoting proactive upgrades.

 

Forecasting the EV Future

Anticipating future trends in EV adoption, including light, medium, and heavy-duty EVs and their charging technologies, is essential. The report identifies a need to forecast adoption timelines, but also end use and technological evolution. The timing and location of EV charging are crucial factors that determine the grid's needs. Developing accurate charging profiles and understanding where grid needs arise are central to managing the inherent uncertainty in forecasts. More granular, longer-term, and generally a larger quantity of forecasts can inform the scenarios to which distribution planners make strategic decisions.


Mitigating Impacts and Smart Charging

One of the report's key recommendations is the adoption of smart charging strategies to shape EV load effectively. There are a variety of smart charging strategies considered, including pricing and control measures, and a discussion of planning multiple smart charging strategies together. The suite of mitigations includes considering EVs alongside other behind-the-meter solutions to optimize energy use and reduce strain on the grid.


Future-Ready Infrastructure

Planning for EVs requires a holistic analysis of the assumptions that drive grid planning decisions, including those embedded in design standards and load forecasts. Typically, equipment design standards are re-evaluated every decade or two; however, these standards are being reassessed by leading utilities facing EV growth in their jurisdiction. The report highlights the importance of updating design standards to meet electrification challenges throughout the course of business, including during regular maintenance activities.


The Need for Coordinated Planning

Perhaps most importantly, the report underscores the necessity of coordinated and holistic planning. Utilities can be proactive but should do so intelligently by working with multiple stakeholders and using improved, granular forecasts that may help to avoid overbuilding the system and creating stranded assets. Aligning the grid planning process with the EV use case and ensuring equitable plans are crucial steps towards a sustainable EV future.


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"Charging Ahead" is a report that marks our best understanding today of the challenges that grid planners face with electrification of transportation. As we navigate the complexities of integrating EVs into our energy systems, this report provides guidance for stakeholders across the spectrum. The journey to a grid that can seamlessly support EVs is indeed challenging, but with strategic decisions and coordination, it's a journey that can evolve our practices and processes to support our long-term future.


For those interested in the full report and the good/better/best practices identified that support specific planning attributes associated with grid planning for vehicle electrification, the report itself is publicly available.

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