For this column, I will be wrapping up my month-long discussion about energy by focusing on EV (electric vehicles), AV (autonomous vehicles), and their role in the smart-grid conversation—both now and in the future.
If you are a regular reader of my blogs then you are aware transportation as we know it is about to change drastically, perhaps in more ways than most of us can even imagine.
Consider for a moment, most of the vehicles on the road today require gasoline, and they must be driven by a human. Today there is a large portion of adults in the U.S. that own their own vehicles, and these vehicles are generally for their own exclusive use or they are part of the family fleet, so to speak. While car ownership among adults isn’t a given everywhere in the world, and it’s not even necessarily across the board in the U.S., it’s been generally true for the most part.
However, many variables in today’s transportation equation will likely change in the near future. There is no question that electric vehicles will become more widespread as battery-powered vehicle technology advances—and as the infrastructure to support these vehicles is built up in more places.
The promise of autonomous vehicles will also come to fruition in the coming decades. Whereas right now, vehicles coming off the assembly line have degrees of autonomy built in—generally for safety, but also for convenience in some cases—eventually, most of us in the industry believe vehicles will be able to drive themselves. As a result, with the driving experience so altered, our attitudes toward our vehicles and about transportation in general will undergo a fundamental shift.
This shift will open doors for new types of transportation models, such as ride sharing, in which individuals don’t actually own their own personal vehicles but rather share them with each other.
As we evolve from today’s transportation model to tomorrow’s, there will be implications for how we as a society manage energy. The load on the power grid posed by EV right now isn’t too extreme, but this won’t necessarily be the case in a future filled with electric, autonomous vehicles.
If the current trends of increasing consumer interest and decreasing costs continue, GTM Research says EV adoption could increase to 12 million vehicles by 2025. In fact, 2025 is not that far off, and nor is 2035, really.
A recent analysis from consulting firm McKinsey and Co., suggests EV sales will hit 100 million by 2035, citing falling battery costs as a primary driver of adoption. With this kind of predicted growth, there’s no way around the fact that more EVs on the road will increase the demands placed on current and future power grids.
How much of a demand can we expect? It’s hard to say for sure, but a joint-research report by McKinsey and Co., and Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests electric vehicles could represent as much as 3% of the global electricity demand by 2030.
Some potential solutions to meet this growing demand have already been suggested. For instance, implementing differentiated time-of-use rates could help reduce strain during peak use hours by introducing a financial incentive for people to charge their vehicles in off hours.
Additionally, investments and advancements in the charging infrastructure now could help utilities mitigate any negative grid effects created by future EV charging. What that means is roads full of electric and autonomous vehicles are probably going to require a different sort of infrastructure than we currently have in place.
There is no question we are going to need a robust wireless charging infrastructure, for instance. And there is no secret companies are already working toward making this a reality. For instance, earlier this year, Nissan and a company called WiTricity, which provides technology that enables wireless power transfer over distances, announced a joint effort to drive adoption of wireless EV charging systems. WiTricity offers a wireless charging system that consists of a charging pad installed on top of or underneath the ground.
The charging pad sends energy—via “magnetic resonance” technology—to the car parked above it. This is just one example of the type of solution that could make up a wireless charging infrastructure in the future.
There are many others. One key to success here is that the industry pursues interoperable solutions when building up a wireless charging infrastructure. Otherwise, we are going to end up with too many fragmented solutions that ultimately hinder adoption.
When it comes to how EV and AV will interact with the grid in the future, there are many interesting opportunities. Here is just one example of how the private sector is helping industry prepare for a next-gen transportation system.
The UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) along with “SMERC” (Smart Grid Energy Research Center), in an effort to conduct research and create innovations, is developing something called WINSmartEV—a smart, grid-friendly research platform that allows plug-in devices to perform remote monitoring and control of EV charging via a communications network called WINSmartGrid.
The EV plug-in devices collect critical data, including energy consumption data, and upload it to a centralized database controlled by a database server.
The WINSmartEV research network monitors the charging, schedules optimized aggregated charging sequences, and executes the schedule via the control network.
UCLA says its platform can even incorporate market and demand considerations into the charging schedules. This is just part of SMERC’s V2G (vehicle-to-grid) research, which also includes exploring how to achieve maximum V2G power flow from EV.
The research center is also dedicated to identifying challenges the future grid will face and helping to discover solutions.
UCLA hopes its project will provide vast amounts of data and knowledge that will eventually enable large-scale rollouts of grid-integrated EV in the U.S. and beyond.
I think efforts from both the private and public sectors will be important in paving the way for a future in which the next-gen transportation system meshes with the next-gen smart grid.
And while there are a lot of considerations begging for our attention as we consider a future filled with connected EV and AV, energy is one we shouldn’t let slip through the cracks. Only time will tell what the future holds for the connection of the grid.
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