Preparing for the electric vehicle in Northern California


By Andy Tang

Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) are due to arrive in the United States in a matter of months and California drivers are likely to be among the first drivers there to embrace the technology. PG&E’s efforts to prepare for this arrival are many and multi-faceted. They include: building the technical foundation for smart charging; establishing a productive policy framework to motivate and facilitate rapid PEV adoption; and building the necessary organisational capabilities to provide customers with a positive experience and enhance the reliability and efficiency of the grid.

The arrival of the PEV is a near-term challenge that, properly executed, will contribute to California’s broader efforts to build a sustainable energy system and a competitive, low-carbon economy.

There has been much discussion about the arrival of the PEV in California. The state, and especially the San Francisco Bay Area, was an early adopter of hybrid electric vehicles. We at Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) anticipate that PEV adoption will follow a similar pattern. If our customers respond with comparable enthusiasm, PG&E will need to support between 45,000 and 192,000 PEVs by 2015 throughout its service area in Northern and Central California. Most of these PEVs will be located in a short list of early adopter communities, such as San Francisco and Berkeley. With PEVs due in showrooms in late 2010, PEVs are no longer a distant prospect; they are an imminent reality.

The arrival of PEVs in PG&E’s service territory will impact the distribution grid at the neighbourhood level. PG&E’s analysis of PEV adoption and likely charging requirements indicates that impacts on our transmission and primary distribution grids will be manageable over the next five years. Impacts at the transformer and secondary distribution level, however, may be substantial, depending on several factors, including the design specifications of the current grid and the timing of PEV charging.

In hot, inland areas where PG&E has designed its grid to handle air conditioning loads, the current grid will accommodate PEVs with relatively few upgrades. The picture becomes somewhat more critical in temperate coastal areas of PG&E’s service territory, where we have designed the existing grid to operate without air conditioning loads. In these areas, PG&E will need to upgrade transformers and secondary lines more frequently.

Fortunately, PG&E is well on its way to putting in place the necessary infrastructures to enable a smooth adoption of PEVs while minimising the need for costly hardware upgrades.

PG&E is currently deploying or piloting several new technologies it will use to monitor and manage new PEV loads, in what we call smart charging. Smart charging will leverage advanced sensing, communication, computing, and control technologies, and will provide PG&E visibility into PEV charging loads and allow us to actively manage the timing and rate of charge for PEVs on the grid. Using smart charging, PG&E will be able to prevent loads from exceeding design tolerances for transformers and secondary lines, thereby reducing the need for physical upgrades.

Smart metering provides an important initial technical foundation for smart charging. Through its SmartMeter™ programme, PG&E is deploying some 10 million advanced meters, including 5 million smart electric meters, through the end of 2012. To date, PG&E has deployed 2.7 million SmartMeter™ electric meters. These smart electric meters enable two-way communication between the smart electric meter and PG&E in addition to two-way communication between the smart electric meter and the customer’s in-premise energy management systems.

To support smart charging, smart electric meters must be able to communicate into the customer premise. In parallel to meter deployment in the field, PG&E is working to build the technical systems required to activate this capability. Through its customer energy management programme, PG&E is involved in both setting industry standards and piloting vendor technologies that support this future capability.


Prius: A Toyota Prius under test at PG&E

PG&E is collaborating with standards setting bodies to define and test a standard industry protocol for home area networking, the Smart Energy 2.0 protocol. This protocol will enable a new generation of in-premise energy management devices to operate in a seamless, plug-and-play manner with the electric grid, thereby reducing integration costs and creating national markets that enhance competition and lower cost through scale economies.

To inform our contributions to standards setting efforts, PG&E is actively testing a range of vendor prototype customer energy management devices for integration with its smart meters and technical systems. In 2009, we established our Technology Innovation Centre, an industry-leading lab environment for evaluating home area networking technologies. In 2010, we are moving beyond the lab to conduct field tests with a limited number of customers. In 2011, we plan to expand these field tests to include up to 10,000 customers across our service territory.

PG&E anticipates that smart charging will play an increasingly important role as Northern California evolves an increasingly sustainable electric system.

To become more sustainable, the electric system must integrate an increasing percentage of clean, renewable – but intermittent and unpredictable – resources. These resources include utility-scale wind farms and solar power plants as well as a growing number of distributed electric generation facilities, particularly customer owned solar.

PG&E is moving aggressively to increase the percentage of renewable resources on its grid. In compliance with California’s aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard, PG&E is on track to procure a third of the electricity it sells from renewable resources by 2020. And fully 40% of all grid-connected solar PV in the US is within PG&E’s service territory.

Smart charging may provide a valuable balancing resource to manage an increasingly dynamic electric supply. Depending on the rate of charge, PEV loads can be as large as the load of an entire house in California’s central valley on a hot summer afternoon, or as much as the combined load of three homes in the more temperate coastal zones of California. The ability to control the time and rate of charging for these large loads could create for PG&E a significant new demand response resource for balancing the intermittency of our growing portfolio of clean, renewable generation.

If PEV charging is managed effectively, it could one day be used to absorb excess generation capacity from wind farms, which in California often produce surplus electricity at night. And by slowing or speeding up charging in response to fluctuations in grid frequency, PEV charging could eventually provide ancillary services to balance electric supply and demand on a very short term basis. Over time, as they become more prevalent, PEVs also hold out the prospect of driving higher utilisation of generation capacity, leading to a lower unit cost for electricity.

At PG&E, we are committed to an open standards approach to both PEV infrastructure and PEV interconnection with the utility grid. Standards-based solutions give PEV drivers greater choice, consistency, and value in their experience with PEVs. They give industry the ability to achieve scale in serving national and even international markets while minimising barriers to greater competition and innovation.

PG&E is actively engaged in national and international PEV standards setting efforts in the energy, automotive and information technology sectors. Within the energy industry, PG&E chairs the Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) Electric Transportation Infrastructure Working Council which, together with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), has defined the industry standard for the PEV connector (J1772). In the automotive sector, PG&E is involved in several efforts: the IEEE’s P1809/2030 Electric Sourced Transportation Committee, which focuses on IEEE/SAE PEV standards relating to infrastructure development and smart grid communications; the ISO/SAE J2847 working group, which is focusing on a global standard protocol for PEV-to-utility communications; and, the SAE J1772/2 DC Fast Charge Task Force, which is working to define a smart grid-standards-based DC fast-charging standard. Finally, in the information technology sector, PG&E is actively engaged in the SGIP/NIST PEV working group, which is focusing on national vehicle-to-grid standards.

In addition, PG&E is working with various industry players to demonstrate and test the technologies needed to integrate PEVs into the electric grid.

In our PEV Smart Charging Pilot, PG&E will work with the EPRI to demonstrate communications linking PEVs to PG&E’s SmartMeter™ network. This demonstration will integrate the many facets needed for a comprehensive PEV charging solution, including hardware, software, hardware installation, and market support. In addition, the pilot will test the systems needed to ensure grid reliability.

Through this and other demonstration efforts, we are gaining hands-on experience to help inform our contribution on standards setting discussions. And we are helping to accelerate the evolution of vendor products and services in the rapidly growing and highly dynamic business ecosystem that is now emerging to support PEVs.


EVSEFairfield: A PEV charging station

In addition to multiple efforts to build the technology platform for PEV charging, PG&E is working with federal, state, and local stakeholders to develop policies and regulations to support rapid and seamless PEV adoption. Early customer adoption of this new technology is critical to the future evolution of the PEV marketplace.

At the national level, we are working with associations such as the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) to develop incentive and educational programmes to accelerate EV adoption. PG&E’s CEO, Peter Darbee, is an active member of the Electrification Coalition (EC), a group of American business leaders dedicated to promoting policies and actions to facilitate mass scale deployment of electric vehicles in the United States. The EC recently released its electrification roadmap and has been an active advocate for federal legislation to support this roadmap.

On the state level, PG&E actively supports a range of public policy initiatives and funding programmes designed to diversify California’s transportation fuel supply with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting public health. California’s ground-breaking adoption of a well-defined Low Carbon Fuel Standard in early 2009 was a significant accomplishment won with the help of PG&E’s continuing efforts to promote California leadership in clean transportation. This early action initiative under AB32 – California’s pioneering law for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – takes effect in January 2011 and will decrease the carbon intensity of California’s transportation fuels by at least 10% in 2020.

Currently, California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is working to define the rules that will govern the PEV market in California. PG&E has been deeply involved in the state’s deliberations on how best to design the institutional structures needed to ensure a positive customer experience with PEV technology and support rapid adoption of the technology. One important point of active discussion has been the question of appropriate regulation for third parties offering charging services to the public. The CPUC’s very transparent and open process has helped to clarify the many issues that must be resolved to deploy PEVs at scale. The final rulings will likely serve as a model for other US states as they prepare for PEV adoption.

At the local level, PG&E is active in “Ready, Set, Charge”, a joint governmental-NGO-private sector public outreach programme that is working to realise the vision of a Bay Area Electric Vehicle Corridor, a regional network of PEV ready communities. The “Ready, Set, Charge” programme provides education and coordination for local governments, electric vehicle groups, and other stakeholders to facilitate successful installation of in-home PEV-charging infrastructures in communities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Internally, PG&E is developing and implementing a variety of business processes and technical systems to support PEV adoption from the perspectives of both the customer and the utility.

Customers want simple and intuitive processes around three main PEV-related touch points with the utility: the installation of PEV-charging equipment, the experience of using this equipment to charge their PEVs, and the final receipt and payment of their PEV-related electric bills. The business processes and technical systems needed to achieve a simple and intuitive customer experience are extensive. They include both modifications to, and extensions of, billing, service planning, customer interaction (call centres, online resources), and transmission and distribution planning. The challenge is to deploy organisational capabilities that are at once cost effective, secure, and capable of scaling to very large volumes.

PEVs will be an important part of California’s low carbon future. Within the United States as a whole, transportation accounts for roughly one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. In California, with its history of progressive energy policy, this figure is likely higher. Some estimate the full well-to-wheels figure to account for close to half of all greenhouse gas emissions from the Californian economy. The move to cleaner modes of transportation is absolutely necessary if California hopes to achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by significant amounts. PG&E is preparing the way for rapid PEV adoption and, in the process, moving California closer to a low carbon future.