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The Newest Demand Response Participant: Electric Vehicles

Demand response is catching on faster than pumpkin spice lattes!

Electric VehicleThere are some new candidates who may be able to take part in the energy program that’s saving our electric grid from a total meltdown.  Automakers are working to develop a system that will integrate electric vehicles in demand response, a process where participants get paid to reduce electricity consumption for a set period of time so utilities are able to keep up with demand.

Sumitomo Electric Industries, along with several utilities, has run tests to see if cloud computing can be used in transporting a message directly to electric vehicles.  The message is designed to ask that the car’s owner briefly suspend charging to boost grid stability, which prevents local blackouts.  If the owner agrees to participate, he is compensated for his energy reduction.

A demonstration to show off the new technology was recently held at the Sacramento Municipal Utility Districts Customer Service Center.  Transmission companies and utilities in attendance included Duke Energy, PJM Interconnection, Pacific Gas & Electric, Commonwealth Edison, and ConEdison, among others.

John Cangany, sustainability communications manager for Ford, commented, “The demo showed the vehicles responding to a request from the grid to stop charging and then responding to another request to start charging again.”

Additional automakers taking part in this initiative include Honda, BMW, Toyota, Chrysler Group, Mitsubishi, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz.  And it’s not a coincidence that each of these manufacturers offers at least one electric vehicle.

Although most EV owners typically charge their cars at night, the potential for more users to power up during the day could add some strain on the electric grid, which is why automakers are searching for a solution now while EVs are just taking off.

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Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on November 2, 2014

Things would be a lot simpler if utilities switched to time of use metering and made the price signals publicly available in real time.  Then customers could respond to load stress since prices spike at peak load times.  Also, the utilities are able to predict ahead of time the approximate demand so that for significant demand spikes they could notify customers in advance and they could be prepared to disconnect their vehicles at the appropriate time.

This approach has the benefit that the utility does not need to pay anyone anything.  The feedback is simply sending out a price signal and the vehicle owners and then they have the advanced knowledge so that they can plan ahead.

This will be hard for most utilities because it represents a fundamental shift in their culture from one of control to one of service.  One of central planning to one of market based operations. 

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on November 2, 2014

There’s a missing element in the demand-response scheme, and that’s a provision for EV drivers to bid into the system.  If drivers know when they’re going to want power and about how much, providing this information to the ISO would allow generation resources to be scheduled.

Providing the ISO with data on the amount of energy to be delivered overnight would allow the lowest-cost generating resources to be scheduled and demand kept level via scheduling of charging.  So long as vehicles are charged before they’re needed next, it doesn’t matter when or how fast it’s done.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on November 2, 2014

As Clayton mentions, real-time (or even day-ahead or monthly) time-of-use pricing would work well for letting EV owners charge their vehicles at a time of day that fits best with other grid demands.

The notion of two-way communication to allow EV owners to bid into the system, strikes me as over-kill.  In large numbers, people are very predictable about things like electricity demand.  Utilities would quickly learn to predict how users would respond to a given price at a given time of day, in a given weather, and not need any actual bids to come back (it’s rather like RSVPs to a wedding: it’s polite to send them in, but they are not the best way to predict attendance – better to make a few phone calls and estimate the rest based on prior experience).

But interactive demand-response for the purpose of providing regulation and spinning reserve functions seems like a lot of complextity for a tiny amount of benefit.  Up-regulation can only be provided when the vehicle is charging (unless vehicle-to-grid power flow is supported, which only makes sense with large batteries and very high electricity cost), and  the grid would likely get more benefit by having the entire vehicle fleet charge at night.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on November 2, 2014

Clayton, I wish I had enough free time on my hands to stand by my EV plugging/unplugging it in response to realtime signals from my utility. Actually, come to think of it, there’s nothing I’d rather do less, and my utility is a model of service and reasonable rates.

Just where in the U.S. could one find these monopolistic overlords who enslave their customers as you describe? Wherever it is must have a high proportion of renewable energy, because it seems that only RE advocates are so uniformly unhappy with their service. I don’t know, maybe that has something to do with it.

Jeffrey Miller's picture
Jeffrey Miller on November 3, 2014

I agree with Clayton that real time TOU pricing is the way to go. TOU pricing sends the true price signals to both producers and consumers of energy and allows both the ability to optimize their production mix and their consumption habits.

Asking people to do anything that requires their time and attention like bidding into the system won’t work. People are too busy as it is to bother with additional hassles. As Nathan suggests, utilitiles can observe through time how demand responds to price signals and plan accordingly.

For TOU to work optimally, cars (and other appliances) would need software that could receive and act on real time pricing signals from the utility. The software would do things simple things like “don’t charge if the price is > x unless the state of charge is < y and it is less than z hours until some specified time (e.g. when you need to leave for work).”

 

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on November 5, 2014

AC Propulsion did a study around 15 years ago and found that it would only take tens of thousands of EVs on V2G connections to saturate the market for grid regulation services in their region (the paper is now on archive.org, I haven’t the time to dig for it ATM).  That’s not really a market for storage per se, but it would have a major influence on grid stability.

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