Merger Ahead: EVs and The Grid

By Peggy Hammond    August 10, 2018

What will our country’s energy future look like?  For those in the renewable energy industry, our work provides part of the answer.  ISS is working diligently to deliver clean energy from utility-scale solar PV farms across America; we are developing more solar facilities with each passing year.  But what about changes in our country’s transportation future?  That, too, is part of the equation as we transition to clean energy.  Are we on the way toward a break with fossil fuel?  All signs indicate we are making progress in that direction.  Research from several universities released early this summer “suggests that the momentum behind technological change in the global power and transportation sectors will lead to a dramatic decline in demand for fossil fuels in the near future.”  Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) published a report this summer supporting the idea that “the point is fast approaching where zero emission vehicles become not just the greener, but also the most economic choice.”  In a separate report, BNEF shared BP’s prediction that “electric vehicle sales will surge by an eye-watering 8,800 percent between 2017 and 2040.”  With this encouraging glimpse at what’s developing, the promise of decreasing carbon emissions because of increasing EV numbers, energy experts also are examining implications for our electric grid.  It’s a much-needed effort because we’re long past the point where EVs are anomalies.

The move toward transportation’s future is accelerating; sales of electric vehicles are increasing, and talk of the need for fast chargers dominates discussions around the world.  In March 2018, EV sales in the U.S. were 42% higher than March 2017, with a projected 7 million on U.S. roadways in 2025.  As for EV growth on the world scene, the International Energy Agency expects there will be 125M EVs on global roadways by 2030.   It isn’t just cars either; electric buses are claiming their share of the spotlight.  At the end of 2017, Shenzhen, China, became home to the world’s first fully electric line of buses, 16,359 buses to be exact.  Colin McKerracher, lead advanced transportation analyst for BNEF, expects “by 2040 . . . 80% of the global municipal bus fleet to be electric.”  The trend of clean transportation is firmly established, which means EV adoption will continue, and as customers demand more options in the EV market, more suppliers are acquiescing.  Tesla may be the most recognized name in the EV market, but Volkswagen released a statement this spring outlining their company’s goal: “By 2020 we will offer our customers more than 25 new electric models and more than 20 plug-in hybrids.” This year, BMW announced their plan for a 2020 release of their fully electric SUV, with a one-charge range of approximately 250 miles.  Mercedes-Benz intends to reach 25% EV by 2025.

As EVs become more common as the car of choice, the movement to facilitate charging them is coming from different directions.  On the world scene, Vattenfall, a Swedish utility, is now taking its charging network InCharge to Great Britain, and Enel, an Italian utility, has entered into an agreement with Germany-based charging company IONITY to add charging sites in Italy.  Stateside, New York has dedicated $4.2M to adding “fast charging . . . stations along the state’s thruway system.”  This year, Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper and California’s Governor Edmund Brown Jr. progressed plans for their states’ charging stations.  California’s actions are aggressive.  By the end of May, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) had given a green light to the three largest investor-owned utilities for a five-year, $776.5M plan funding and evaluating projects that “accelerate ‘widespread transportation electrification.’”  As June ended, Southern California Edison, one of the three utilities included in the CPUC funding efforts, submitted its proposal to go bigger on charging infrastructure, to the tune of $760M.  There’s action on the corporate level, too; retail giant Target plans to increase convenience for customers who drive EVs.  Between spring 2018 and 2020, Target wants to have over 600 parking spaces boasting charging stations; this will encompass over 100 Target locations in more than 20 states.  Walmart is implementing its own strategy by teaming with Electrify America to have “electric vehicle charging stations at 100 Walmart stores in 34 states by June of 2019.”  Some of those will be fast chargers.

As more states, businesses, and individual residences get involved with providing ways to charge EVs, will the U.S. power grid be ready?  Harmeet Singh of Greenlots, a charging infrastructure company, explains “When an electric vehicle is added to a household, it effectively doubles that household load.  It is equal almost to adding another home into the service territory.”  Utilities must be prepared to deal with this extra demand.  Erica Myers, with Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), served as lead author on a report this spring focusing on U.S. utilities and how they are getting ready for the coming onslaught of EVs.  The SEPA report includes information gathered from a survey of 486 utilities and shows 74% still in the “early stages of planning.”  As Myers and the other writers concluded, although “utilities may not see high penetration of EVs in their service territories today, it’s time to start planning for tomorrow,” with Myers stating, “This is an urgent issue.”  While undoubtedly much remains to be done, there is evidence of progress on the state level;  in May, the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center issued findings that “In Q1 2018, 42 states plus DC took a total of 275 legislative and regulatory actions related to electric vehicles.”

It is clear both clean energy and clean transportation are on people’s minds, and the evidence points to a foregone conclusion:  EVs will become more prevalent, and our power grid must adapt.  The appetite for EVs is one more signal of people’s desire to move away from dependence on fossil fuel.  Each day at ISS, we are doing our part to help America realize that desire and transition to clean, renewable energy.  For more information about opportunities to partner with us on utility-scale solar farm projects, please visit our website at or call 828-424-7884.