The garage of the future


Interview with Doug Kim, Director EV Readiness Program, SCE

What is SCE’s “garage of the future” lab?
Southern California Edison (SCE) has taken the next step in its electric transportation work of 20 years by developing a “garage of the future” evaluation platform, the fundamental convergence of electricity and transportation that can create more sustainable mobile and stationary energy storage systems.

The garage of the future lab will help SCE evaluate the grid integration of electric and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (EV/PHEV) charging and discharging, battery energy storage, on-site generation of renewable energy, and next generation smart appliances and meters. This work links with the Edison SmartConnect™ advanced metering initiative, which is replacing today’s electric meters with new technology that improves customer service and empowers customers to proactively manage their energy use.

Overall, the platform and studies will help SCE gain valuable insight into how PEVs can be effectively integrated into the zero net energy home of the future.


SCE’s prototype “garage of the future”
at its Electric Vehicle Technical Center
in Pomona, California

What is SCE doing to prepare for the arrival of EVs/PHEVs?
One of the challenges of preparing for the arrival of plug-in electric vehicles is that no one yet knows how large the market will be, or how fast it will grow. During early market development, when the number of plug-in electric vehicles is still relatively small, we do not anticipate any significant system-wide impacts to the electricity grid or electricity supply. It will be important to evaluate and learn from our experience during these early years, to plan for potential future impacts.

As the number of plug-in electric vehicles grows over time, how customers charge their vehicles, at home and using public charging infrastructure, will become a significant factor in determining the impact to the electricity grid. Avoiding spikes in electricity demand as a result of charging patterns will be an important policy objective.

We do anticipate the need to reinforce the distribution system in some neighbourhoods that have large numbers of plug-in vehicle owners and faster, higher voltage charging systems. We are committed to making the necessary upgrades as quickly and efficiently as possible.

SCE has begun to reach out to customers to understand their interest in plug-in electric vehicles. The earlier customers notify SCE of their intent to purchase a plug-in electric vehicle, the more effectively we can assess and plan for potential system upgrades.


President Barack Obama and Edison International CEO Ted Craver discuss the benefits of electric transportation during the tour of the Electric Vehicle Technical Center in March 2009

What should customers do to get plug-in ready for an EV?
Customers who are considering the purchase of a plug-in electric vehicle should take three steps to get “plug-in ready”:

  • Determine whether the vehicle they intend to purchase will require an upgrade to their home’s electrical panel and wiring. Plug-in hybrid vehicles charging at 120 V typically do not require changes. Pure battery electric vehicles, and faster higher voltage charging methods, may require a home electrical panel upgrade in addition to a dedicated 240 V circuit. Customers who decide on higher voltage charging need to consult with a licensed electrical contractor and allow time to obtain appropriate permits and inspections.
  • Notify SCE as early as possible of their intention to purchase a plug-in electric vehicle. Depending on the type of vehicle being purchased, the charging method chosen, and the SCE rate option selected, SCE may need to determine if service upgrades are required.
  • Review the rate options available, so that the one that best suits the needs can be selected. Depending on how the customer uses electricity, there could be significant differences among rate options.

What are your projections for EV uptake within SCE’s service area?
We have analysed more than a dozen independent forecasts of market growth, and believe the most likely scenario in SCE’s service territory to be approximately 100,000 plug-in electric vehicles by 2015 and 450,000 by 2020.

But given the uncertainty of the market, we are planning for as many as 200,000 plug-in electric vehicles by 2015 and 1 million by 2020.

How do the costs of running an EV (charging costs and range) compare with those of a traditional vehicle?
The actual cost savings depend on many factors, such as performance characteristics of cars being compared and customer’s driving habits, but as much as 75% is possible if customers sign up for and use offpeak electricity rates compared to $3 per gallon gasoline. However, savings can be only 30% if customers stay with a typical existing residential electricity rate. As gasoline prices rise, then savings are potentially more. Of course, there are many non-typical situations and customers should consult their utilities to better understand their rate options.


An engineer records data as part of
SCE’s vehicle research programs
at the Electric Vehicle Technical Center

Do you see the public charging market evolving more towards the cellular model where users subscribe to a provider or more towards the traditional “gas station” model where users can go to any outlet? And what is the utility’s role in these models?
Utilities have different cost structures, and depending on where the cars are charged, the customers can expect to pay different rates. While there are a number of options that require further investigation, SCE believes the “gas station” option works well for charging in another utility’s service territory. Under that option, the customers would make a cash, credit card or debit card payment to the charging provider.

The role of the utility in the public charging market is one of the topics under consideration by the ongoing California Public Utilities Commission’s Order-Instituting-Rulemaking (OIR) process. However, we expect the significant portion of charging, perhaps up to 75%, to be residential charging in early years in Southern California.

What about the practicalities of battery swapping?
Battery switch proposals and fast charging deserve more research and understanding. From a fast charging perspective, not all lithium ion chemistries today react favourably to fast charging.

What is the current status of standards for charging infrastructure, e.g. for plugs, billing etc., and what developments are required?
SCE is working closely with automakers and other utilities through the various standard setting organisations as well as the national effort led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It is very important that we have national standards and that we don’t have competing state standards.

Work is just starting in the area of communication and load control of plug-in vehicles. At our EV Technical Center, engineers, in collaboration with Ford Motor Company, recently demonstrated load management and control of a plug-in hybrid prototype using new charging control technology developed by Ford linked to Edison’s smart meter technology.


Engineers at the Electric Vehicle
Technical Center evaluate how
plug-in electric vehicles will
interact with the electricity grid

What do you see as the key challenges in encouraging the mass take-up of EVs?
We see six major barriers to a sustained PEV market. These are:

  • Higher up-front vehicle costs than their gasoline vehicle counterparts.
  • High cost for batteries in the early years that exacerbate initial vehicle costs: Cost projections for batteries are expected to trend lower with volume production. For example, new detailed work by Paul Nelson at USDOE’s Argonne National Lab shows that in 100,000 unit per year volume production, a traditional HEV can get as low as $700 per kWh, a PHEV 10, $400 per kWh, a PHEV 20 as low as $255 per kWh and a PHEV 40 as low as $210 per kWh.
  • Consumer acceptance and the corresponding need for consumer education and outreach.
  • Availability of public charging infrastructure.
  • Standardised integration with a smarter grid.
  • Unpredictable federal commitment to incentives and favourable public policy to support PEV. For example, incentive for PEV infrastructure expires in 2010 and Section 131 of EISA which provides funding for electric transportation expires in 2012. Congress should consider extending these provisions until the PEV market is fully commercialised. In short, long term government assistance is needed for vehicles, infrastructure, battery recycling/reuse, and other aspects of the business.

Finally, what will the residential garage of the future look like? There are many exciting possibilities. While we cannot predict exactly what the future garage will look like, we continue to keep close watch on evolving technologies through our “garage of the future” efforts.