The EV Revolution Is Near: Are Utilities Ready?

(DGIwire) – There has been a steady stream of headlines heralding the dawn of the battery electric vehicle (EV) era. Yet one large piece of the puzzle may still need to fall into place: ensuring that electric utilities are ready. A recent report from the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), featured on the transportation news website NGTNews.com, noted that many U.S. utilities are still in the earliest stages of EV programs and activities.

Based on a survey of 486 utilities, the report found that nearly 75 percent were either in the early stages of planning for EV market growth or had yet to start developing strategies or programs. These utilities—which collectively provide power to about 70 percent of all residential, commercial and industrial customers in the U.S.—have a key role to play as a platform for EV charging infrastructure, NGTNews.com adds.

“Apart from the question of whether sufficient infrastructure is in place to accommodate the needs of EV owners, there is the additional challenge of ensuring that the recharging stations do not overstress the grid and allow recharging to occur in a timely fashion,” says Stephen Voller, CEO of ZapGo Ltd, the developer of Carbon-Ion™ (C-Ion®) cells, a fast-charging and safe alternative to lithium-ion batteries. “New battery-charging technology could prove to be a game-changer in this regard.”

Even with a 50-kilowatt charger, fully charging a vehicle with a 90 kilowatt-hour battery would take 80 minutes, according to an SO Energy Insights report. This type of challenge for electric utilities is increasingly prominent in nations such as the UK; as part of Britain’s “decarbonization” target, all cars sold in that country may have to be electric by 2040.

Around the world, utility grids will have to be optimized to support a level of charging that motorists find convenient or else they just won’t use them. Ultra-fast charging, a technology made possible with C-Ion, could be the solution. For example, a 350kW charger would take less than four minutes to charge an average EV of today from 25 to 100 percent. To minimize capital investment, and also to keep the price of electricity low for drivers of electric vehicles, ZapGo proposes to install large containers on filling station sites that initially contain 1MWh of stored energy in its C-Ion cells. On sites with high vehicle throughput, there may be multiple containers installed.

The containers will be charged up at night at off-peak rates using the existing electrical connections to the site. Ultra-fast-charging 350kW chargers will be installed on site connected to the container storage, not directly to the site grid connection. Vehicles will be charged from the stored energy at the 350kW rate.

“When the tipping point for EVs is reached, utilities that plan ahead will be poised to profit—so preparedness is a major plus,” Voller adds.

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