With the increased adoption of electric vehicles, the demands on the electric grid will significantly affect utilities, businesses, and consumers. One of the most significant challenges for the grid will be the rapid spike in demand at the start of the workday as an aggregate result of workplace charging. By utilizing smart charging and bi-directional power flow, opportunities exist to improve grid stability, optimize energy efficiency, and reduce energy costs.
Pike Research projects that plug-in electric vehicle sales will reach 5.19 million units annually by 2017. To accompany these vehicles, nearly 7.7 million EVSEs will be installed to provide the necessary charging infrastructure. According to data from Idaho National Laboratory, over 90% of all electric vehicle charging takes place at the workplace or at home. Consequently, most electric vehicles will be plugged in to chargers during working and sleeping hours, which means that vehicles will be connected to the grid for a significantly greater amount of time than the requisite for the charging process. The presence of fully charged vehicles connected to the grid opens up the opportunity for increased efficiency and reduced costs through the use of smart charging systems.
Smart charging systems are systems that optimize the flow of electricity to vehicles and fleets to maintain grid stability, increase energy efficiency, and reduce energy costs. These systems will use time-of-use pricing, behavioral economics, demand response, and peak shaving techniques to optimize the power flow at any given time. By utilizing the electric vehicle as a grid asset that can store and push energy back to the grid when necessary, smart charging systems can charge the vehicles when prices are lowest and use some energy from the EVs at key times to stabilize the grid, and reduce peak demand.
The business model for smart charging is still evolving. One promising model being explored is to have businesses bear the capital expense for EVSEs and recover the investment over time based on the utilization of EV fleets for peak shaving. Since commercial buildings often face additional charges for their peak demand over the course of a year, significant benefits can be reaped by businesses by utilizing smart charging systems to reduce their peak energy consumption. This is demonstrated in Figure 1 below, where the shaded area represents a theoretical energy savings from utilizing EV stored power at key times. Another business model for smart charging provides the benefit of smart charging directly to vehicle owners by providing incentives to charge and discharge their vehicle at key times over the course of the day. Similar to demand response programs, this model enables utilities to reduce demand at peak times through incentives and behavioral economics and pass on the benefits to participating customers. Third party aggregators and analytics service providers will likely play a key role in this market moving forward as the algorithms to allocate and control the power flow for smart charging are still in development.
Overall, smart charging represents a large emerging market opportunity for a variety of players in the market, including utilities, businesses, and electric vehicle owners.