Feb 9, 2022 | Tim Victor

Why VTA’s Foray into Distributed Energy Resources is a Winning Strategy in Vehicle Electrification

Electric vehicles are an inescapable topic of conversation at dinner tables in 2022, and to no surprise. States like California and New York have been setting aggressive vehicle electrification goals in the past year, resulting in a massive increase in electricity demand in both urban and industrial areas. It is a monumental, but necessary undertaking to say the least.

Let’s pause and think for a second about what this means for our existing electricity system. Currently our grid is a highly centralized archaic system, and the distribution piece of the system is already reaching capacity limits in certain locations. As EV’s start to gain momentum, the effect on the grid will compound rapidly with massive energy hotspots appearing on the distribution system.

The current demand for EV deployments far exceeds the utility’s ability to open new capacity on the distribution system. It is not simply just an issue of producing more power on the grid but more that the system is not ready to distribute the new capacity to its customers. Looking at the supply chain for EV’s, the grid is the one of the weakest links as electric vehicles are being deployed at an increasingly rapid rate to meet our states’ vehicle electrification goals. The utility’s inability to pivot quickly is resulting in long delays for deploying the required charging infrastructure needed to meet our rapid vehicle electrification goals.

This is where Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) can help. DERs are small-scale power generation or energy storage sources located closer to where electricity is consumed (e.g., a home or business). To increase the rate of electrification, states with lofty EV goals could leverage the established benefits of DERs. Strategically locating DERs at high EV load sites can give utilities more bandwidth to upgrade their distribution systems, and also the flexibility to modify their operations to further reduce emissions.

How Do Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) Support EV’s?

In a fleet setting, DERs like Solar and Storage utilize the zero-carbon power generated onsite to reduce demand during peak periods and charge vehicles when it makes the most sense for their operations and the given electricity tariff. The result is a more favorable demand curve for the utility’s operations that will reduce the need for rapid system upgrades and thus increase the rate of EV adoption.

Most fleets do not have the flexibility to change their vehicle’s operational schedules in order to charge their vehicles at the best time – public transit fleets that are operational during the day, for instance, are limited to mostly nighttime charging. Though many of the EV specific tariffs incentivize overnight charging, this can result in an increase in emissions since the dirtiest power from the grid comes at night.

                                                    CAISO Daily CO2 & PG&E BEV-1 Tariff

Rate design is a useful tool to alleviate the peak demand on the grid from EV charging but can also force an increase in emissions by charging overnight. Pairing clean, renewable, and local DERs with fleet charging depots allows the fleet to charge from low-cost power and reduce the associated emissions of using grid electricity without drastically affecting their fleet’s existing operations. In order to accomplish our vehicle electrification goals in a faster and lower cost way without increasing emissions, flexible DERs are an essential piece of the puzzle.

Distributed energy companies like Scale can fill this need in a cost-effective and resilient way with the deployment of our fleet oriented microgrids. We design, finance, and integrate EV infrastructure with onsite solar, energy storage, and backup power systems to operate in parallel with the utility to offset peak demand and reduce energy costs. If the grid were to experience an outage, the microgrid will “island” from the grid and continue to provide resilient power to allow fleet operations to continue.

Scale recently announced a project in partnership with Proterra and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to install a solar-powered microgrid to support VTA’s fleet of transit buses. The project involves the installation of (2) 1.5MW Proterra chargers paired with a solar PV and battery storage microgrid at VTA’s Cerone Bus Yard. The battery storage system can store 4MWh of usable electricity to provide back-up electricity at the bus yard for up to 20 hours of emergency operations.

The VTA project is a great example of how DERs can support both a fleet of vehicles and reduce peak demand for the utility. If we are to succeed in our aggressive transportation electrification goals, DERs need to be an integral part of the electricity grid moving forward in order to support both the EV fleet owners and the incumbent utilities.

Author: Tim Victor

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