Utility Rate Structures Challenge Electric Vehicle Fast Charging

According to a report issued by EVgo and Rocky Mountain Institute, today’s electric utility rate structures generally present major, if not insurmountable, challenges to the commercial viability of Direct Current (DC) fast charging of electric vehicles. To solve the problem, utility tariffs must be amended to recognize the rapidly evolving grid and provide a framework that accommodates this unique and critical infrastructure (as generally illustrated by the following video).

The biggest financial challenge for DC fast chargers is the demand charge. Demand charges are determined by the maximum rate at which energy is used, typically during peak hours of a billing period. Generally speaking, once the peak demand is established, the customer must pay for that capacity for the entire year, 24/7/365. While usually not transparent to (nor avoidable by) residential customers, demand charges are a significant and sometimes manageable cost for commercial and industrial customers. In fact, customers who have the ability to curtail their load during peak events do curtail so that they can enjoy the benefit of a reduced demand charge over the course of the year.

DC fast chargers draw a large quantity of electricity (thereby triggering high demand charges), but generally do so only intermittently and for relatively short periods. Because usage on the vast majority of DC fast chargers is relatively light, these units usually do not consume enough electricity over the course of a year to average out the demand charges to a cost-effective level. And companies such as EVgo cannot feasibly avoid or mitigate demand charges by curtailing or spreading load because the units spike by design and customers must be able to charge at any time.

RMI’s study found that, under certain electricity tariffs, demand charges can make up as much as 90 percent of the monthly bill of operational public DC fast chargers, driving the cost of delivered electricity as high as $1.96 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) during summer months in some locations. These charges are nearly seven times as high as the current gasoline equivalent cost of $0.29/kWh, meaning it is difficult for DC Fast charging providers like EVgo to remain competitive with the costs of operating petroleum-fueled vehicles.

“As EV adoption increases, it’s important that drivers have access to affordable charging options outside their homes,” said Terry O’Day, Vice President, Product Strategy and Market Development, at EVgo. “Public fast charging is critical to EV deployment, and the more chargers installed will affect the amount of EVs deployed, which, in turn, will drive utilization and revenue.”

The report recommended the following approaches to promote a competitive business environment for public DC fast charging stations and to facilitate future infrastructure investment:

  • Low fixed charges, which primarily reflect routine costs for items such as maintenance and billing.
  • The opportunity to earn credit for providing grid services, perhaps along the lines of a solar net-metering design.
  • Rates that vary by location—for example, offering low rates for DC fast chargers installed in overbuilt and underutilized areas of the grid. This strategy can increase the efficiency of existing infrastructure and help build new EV charging infrastructure at a low cost.
  • Limited or no demand charges. If demand charges are necessary, it’s essential that they do not capture upstream costs of distribution circuits, transmission or generation.
  • Time-varying volumetric rates, such as those proposed for San Diego Gas & Electric’s Public Charging Grid Integration Rate (GIR). These volumetric charges would recover all, or nearly all, of the cost of providing energy and system capacity.

“As more and more Californians embrace the many benefits of EVs—reduced carbon and air emissions, lower per-mile usage costs compared with gasoline-powered vehicles and increasing operating ranges— now is the time for California to ensure that the support infrastructure for EVs keeps pace,” said Jeruld Weiland, a Managing Director at RMI. “We hope this research helps inform California’s electricity-sector stakeholders on constructive approaches to best position the state to meet its ambitious carbon-reduction goals.”

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Demand for Powerful Technology Drives Electronics Suppliers Together

Renesas and Intersil logosSensing that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts in a rapidly growing market for smart products, Renesas Electronics Corporation, a premier supplier of advanced semiconductor solutions, and Intersil Corporation, a leading provider of innovative power management and precision analog solutions, announced they have signed a definitive agreement for Renesas to acquire Intersil for $3.2 billion. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2017 pending stockholder and governmental approvals.

The acquisition combines two long-standing industry leaders in their respective segments and is consistent with a recent pattern of similar transactions among the companies’ peers. The need for Renesas and Intersil to bulk up by combining resources is caused by the extremely prominent role that semiconductor-based technology is taking in products large and small.

For example, goods ranging from light bulbs to automobiles are increasingly differentiating themselves based not on their core functions (i.e., lighting a room or transporting a passenger from Point A to Point B), but rather on cutting-edge value-added technology such as sensor-packed light bulbs, autonomous driving, and other “smart” features.Graphic of Renesas R-Car D1 Series of automotive SoCs specialized for 3D graphics clustersOne of many systems experiencing evolving complexity is vehicle instrument clusters. No longer content with basic analog dials, customers demand (and vehicle possess) huge amounts of information. One solution is the 3-dimensional graphical instrument cluster, behind many of which sits a Renesas semiconductor. These systems must be customizable by individual auto manufacturers while also possessing attributes including rapid startup, driver safety protection, resistance to hacking, and interoperability with a wide variety of communications interfaces. Meeting these and other strict requirements requires the supplier to be bigger than ever.

Graphic of Intersil integrated circuitIntersil, whose roots date to 1967, has developed market leadership in power management and precision analog technology for many of the most rigorous applications in the computing, consumer and industrial markets. One of the company’s many systems is an automotive battery management solution specifically designed to meet stringent safety, reliability, and performance requirements of next generation hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and battery electric vehicles. Intersil also owns other technology, including heads-up displays and infotainment systems for vehicles, that is complementary to Renesas.

By combining Renesas’s market-proven microcontroller (MCU) and system-on-chip (SoC) products and technologies with Intersil’s leading power management and precision analog capability, Renesas will be well positioned to address some of the most exciting opportunities in key areas such as automotive, industrial, cloud computing, healthcare, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

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Smart City Challenge Winner Is Columbus, Ohio

Smart City Banner - Columbus, Ohio

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that Columbus, Ohio, is the winner of the Department’s Smart City Challenge. As winner of the Challenge, which attracted 78 applicants, Columbus will receive up to $40 million from the DOT and up to $10 million from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. This $50 million will supplement an impressive $90 million “Acceleration Fund” that Columbus has already raised from other private partners to carry out its plan.

Key to Columbus’s proposal, which will be a model for cities across America, is the “Smart Columbus Electrification Plan,” which is comprised of five strategies:

  1. Displace carbon-intensive electricity generation with zero-carbon renewable power;
  2. Decarbonize regional vehicle fleets, relying mainly on electricity with efficiency and alternative fuels assisting;
  3. Build out smart transportation systems that reduce GhGs while improving mobility for residents, visitors and freight;
  4. Drive significant electrification into personal mobility through policy, investments and education; and
  5. Build out infrastructure for smart charging with EV grid-connectivity to lower EV adoption barriers.

Skyline of Columbus, OhioAchievement of the above strategies will be measured based on the following:

  1. Electricity Supply Decarbonization (including 915 MW of commercial/industrial wind/solar statewide, 3.4 MW of residential solar, and 1.33% annual improvement in grid and building efficiency);
  2. Fleet Electrification (300 EVs in public fleets, 448 EVs in private fleets, and 30 EVs for car/ride sharing);
  3. Transit, Autonomous and Multi-Modal Systems in the city (including a completed Bus Rapid Transit corridor and 3000 Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) connected vehicles, 6 deployed autonomous electric vehicles for last-mile service and 10 kiosks w/common payment platform, and car/bike sharing);
  4. Driving Consumer Adoption (3,200 registered EVs by 2018 (encouraged by $1000/vehicle consumer rebates and $200/vehicle dealer payments), 100 events (such as multi-day EV test drives) with 7,500 consumers, and 15 dealer trainings with 200 participants); and
  5. Charging Infrastructure (1,000 new residential Level 2 chargers, 300 new public Level 2 chargers, and 10-15 public DC-fast chargers).

With the goal of developing a nationally replicable EV adoption and transportation decarbonization model for mid-sized cities, Columbus and its partners will explore a variety of financing mechanisms and policies necessary to attain scale. Examples include vehicle leasing for fleets based on total lifetime cost of ownership, solar financing including Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), Environmental Impact Bonds (EIBs), electric vehicle infrastructure banks (EVIBs), and regulatory approvals for utility investments in “smart” EV charging infrastructure at scale. The Smart Columbus team will also pilot innovative rebate programs to spur consumer investments in EVs and charging infrastructure.

The competition’s final round included brief videos from each participant; here is Columbus’s:

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New Announcements from “Current, powered by GE”

In October I wrote about the introduction of “Current, powered by GE,” the new venture launched by General Electric. Current seeks to use lighting infrastructure to connect the physical and digital worlds to reduce energy costs, enable intelligent environments, and optimize energy efficiency.

One example of the company’s Intelligent Cities initiative is providing useful and realtime information to pedestrians and their devices, as demonstrated in the following short video.

Recently, Current and partners including JPMorgan Chase, Hilton Worldwide, and Hospital Corporation of America held an event at the New York Stock Exchange where they discussed early and notable achievements such as JPMorgan Chase placing the world’s largest single-order LED installation for approximately 5,000 branches covering 25 million square feet to reduce energy usage by more than 50%.

In addition to the obvious efficiency and safety benefits LED lighting offers, Current is now bringing cities a new level of safety by partnering with SST, Inc., to embed the ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology into GE’s intelligent LED street lights. According to the companies:

Through its proprietary acoustic sensors and enterprise-grade software, ShotSpotter detects and locates gunfire in real time. Alerts are then broadcast to 9-1-1 dispatch centers, patrol cars and even smart phones, with the precise location, number of rounds fired, multiple or single shooters and other valuable situational intelligence. These alerts enable first responders to get on scene quickly and safely in order to aid victims, collect evidence and quickly apprehend offenders.

ShotSpotter is just one element of Current by GE’s Intelligent Cities solution, which also offers features such as:

  • Pedestrian detection for optimized crosswalk utilization;
  • Bicycle detection;
  • Incident and collision detection (to more quickly alert EMS);
  • Traffic monitoring;
  • Work zone monitoring; and
  • Environmental monitoring and analysis.

To accelerate adoption of intelligent infrastructure within cities, Current announced a commercial agreement with Intel to partner on Intelligent City proposals and opportunities. Current’s intelligent streetlamps will also be built using the Intel® IoT Platform, an edge to cloud reference architecture with hardware and software building blocks from Intel. The Intel products will process large and evolving data loads quickly with the reliability and flexibility demanded by cities today.

Commenting on the new and valuable services that smart infrastructure can offer, Current’s President and CEO Maryrose Sylvester said:

Populations in cities around the world are growing exponentially, and forward-looking municipal leaders are turning to digital technologies to improve the economic and environmental health of their cities. Through our collaboration with Intel we will accelerate the development of intelligent technologies to help cities pull and access data in ways they haven’t before to solve challenges and create new opportunities for both city workers and residents.

The following video summarizes a pilot program Current is operating in San Diego:

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Southern Company to Acquire Distributed Infrastructure Developer PowerSecure International, Inc.

Southern Company Logo

PowerSecure Logo

Southern Company, one of the largest electricity producers in America with more than 46,000 MW of generating capacity and 4.4 million customers, and North Carolina-based PowerSecure International, Inc., a company specializing in distributed energy resources and related technology, last week announced approval of a definitive merger agreement through which Southern will acquire PowerSecure for approximately $431 million (an 80% premium over the company’s prior-day close).

What makes this transaction particularly interesting is that the companies’ own announcement acknowledges that PowerSecure’s key technologies related to distributed energy resources “typically receive highest demand largely in markets outside of the Southeast [Southern’s sole market], where distributed infrastructure investments tend to provide greater customer value.” While there are multiple reasons this is the case, nonetheless the company’s CEO, Tom Fanning, is on record expressing enthusiasm in responding to certain customer interests, saying “If somebody wants to buy distributed generation, I want to sell it to ’em. I’m completely happy to do that.”

PowerSecure’s smart grid products and services relate to interactive distributed generation, energy efficiency, and utility infrastructure; customers include electric utilities as well as industrial, institutional, and commercial end-users. Specific capabilities PowerSecure’s technology enable include the ability to:

  • Forecast electricity demand and electronically deploy the systems to deliver more efficient and environmentally friendly power at peak power times;
  • Provide utilities with dedicated electric power generation capacity to utilize for demand response purposes; and
  • Provide customers with dependable standby power.

PowerSecure’s distributed generation technology helps utilities manage various types of resources, including solar power, and the company also provides other services ranging from LED lighting to transmission and distribution infrastructure maintenance and construction services, as well as engineering and regulatory consulting services.

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How to Make Your Home Energy Independent

Catalyst, a highly-regarded Australian weekly science program, has produced an excellent episode describing in a very accessible yet in-depth manner the technology that is enabling single-family homes and multi-family communities to vastly reduce their reliance on the electrical grid through the use of solar panels, battery storage, and energy management systems.

In one particularly illustrative example, we meet a homeowner who had solar panels but no batteries, so he was vastly overproducing during the day (and, due to his utility’s rate structure, being paid relatively little) and still needing to buy approximately 60% of his daily electricity from the grid at night. After installing an 8 kWh battery with an energy management system, after one month he was getting more than 40% of his energy from his solar panels (as before), 53% from his battery (which was charged by the excess power generated by his solar panels) and only 3% from the grid.

The show also discusses:

  • An overview of the grid, the need to consume power as it’s produced, and the significant added value that batteries bring to solar panels;
  • Home battery systems, such as that offered by Tesla, as well as leasing programs offered by Australian utility Ergon Energy;
  • Residential energy management systems responding to realtime price signals in the wholesale market to provide a revenue stream to the homeowner while giving the grid operator access to relatively low-cost and instantaneous capacity at peak times;
  • How batteries work, including an interview with a professor who is developing a zinc-bromine battery that reportedly is better than today’s lithium-ion batteries in terms of cost, energy density, speed of charge, and shape; and
  • Megawatt-size battery arrays that give large multifamily community residents access to the benefits of storage.

Whether batteries are economical for a particular home or business depends on many factors, such as:

  • The customer’s rate structure (in particular the availability of and pricing for net metering or a fee-in tariff);
  • The customer’s load profile;
  • Practical or regulatory limitations on the capacity of a solar array;
  • Reliability of the customer’s access to power; and
  • Cost of a battery storage and energy management system.

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Are Retail Customers Finally Ready for Variable Electricity Pricing?

Thermostat

This week in the Wall Street Journal, Jack Nicas writes about admission tickets to the Indianapolis Zoo ranging in price from $8 to $30 per person based on advance sales and expected demand. Like airlines and hotels, more and more businesses are varying their prices by the day, hour, or even minute. Other than happy hours and discounted matinees, most low-priced products and services historically were set at fixed prices with changes being barely noticeable and occurring infrequently.

Technology now allows rapid price changes to commonplace purchases such as transportation (consider peak pricing offered by Uber and Lyft), toll roads (a six-mile stretch of I-820 near Dallas ranges from $0.91 to $4.48), ski tickets ($9.99 to $31.99 at Swiss Valley), and even big box stores (Kohl’s uses electronic price tags to change prices remotely as frequently as every few hours). Professional sports and theme parks are also implementing, or at least studying, variable pricing based on factors such as the weather, the day of the week, school holidays, remaining capacity, and (in the case of sports) the opposing team.

The Wall Street Journal’s Nicas cites Peter Fader, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania’s customer-analytics initiative, who says “This is not a passing fad,” and that customers typically resist dynamic pricing when it is introduced, but then quickly acclimate “with a remarkable lack of backlash.”

Residential electricity prices have historically been set at a flat 24/7 price, despite “[p]rice [being] the ‘central nervous system of the economy,'” as confirmed by the Supreme Court. In 2007, the Electric Energy Market Competition Task Forcestated that “[p]rice changes signal to customers in wholesale and retail markets that they should change their decisions about how much and when to consume electric power.” True, there have been certain regional exceptions for time-of-use pricing and, more recently, demand response based on real-time wholesale prices, but for the most part such programs have been relatively unrefined compared to today’s capabilities.

Now, though, with smart meters becoming increasingly prevalent, along with powerful and affordable data-crunching capabilities, utilities and energy services companies have powerful and accurate tools to shape load by sending price signals that reflect the real-time state of the grid. These price signals will, in turn, drive usage in a way that addresses the widely acknowledged disconnect between wholesale and retail energy markets and result in the efficient utilization of resources and deployment of capital.

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U.S. Department of Energy Announces New Efficiency Standards

Washing Machine Controls

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) last week announced new energy efficiency standards for commercial air conditioners and furnaces. The DOE expects businesses to save $167 billion on energy costs and reduce carbon emissions by  885 million metric tons over the course of the products’ lifetimes. The first phase of the new standards will begin in 2018 and will deliver a 13 percent efficiency improvement; the second phase, to begin in 2023, will require an additional 15 percent increase in efficiency for new commercial units.

Commercial air conditioners, also known as rooftop units (RTUs), are commonly used in low-rise buildings such as schools, restaurants, big-box stores and small office buildings. These units cool about half of the total commercial floor space in the United States.

The new standards, developed collaboratively with 17 stakeholders including major industry organizations, complement other new efficiency standards finalized over the past several years. Collectively, according to the DOE, efficiency standards developed since 2008 will save consumers nearly $535 billion in energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2 billion metric tons through 2030.

FERC Issues Staff Report on Demand Response and Advanced Metering

Transformers

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week released a staff report on demand response and advanced metering. According to the report:

  • Approximately 38 percent of all meters in the US contain advanced capabilities  (a sizable increase over the <5 percent penetration in 2007), with Texas leading the way at nearly 80 percent;
  • Meters with two-way communication capabilities outnumber meters with one-way capabilities;
  • State and federal agencies continue to promote demand response;
  • Demand response, along with other resources and technologies, is facilitating innovative grid architectures and system operations; and
  • Nationwide, the number of customers enrolled in incentive-based programs increased by nearly 70 percent, to a total of more than 9 million participants.

The FERC Staff Report also itemizes recent demand response-related FERC orders and outlines federal and state demand response initiatives, including:

  • Executive Order 13693: Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade;
  • The Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Investment Grant consumer behavior studies;
  • Department of Defense conservation, efficiency, electric vehicle, environmental research, and smart grid activities;
  • The General Services Administration’s Sustainable Facilities Tool and green building learning simulation called “Green the Building;”
  • Department of Veterans Affairs’ sustainable design manual;
  • A wide range of activities by California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

General Electric Launches Industrial Internet Startup, “Current by GE”

General Electric today launched a billion-dollar startup, called Current by GE, and tasked it with applying the company’s vast resources in new ways to add value by connecting the physical and digital worlds. Using LED lighting as the primary physical platform, in conjunction with GE’s Predix data analytics service, Current will also be home to GE’s solar, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging technology, among others.

Current aims to leverage GE’s institutional knowledge earned through long-term partnerships across virtually every industry imaginable to take services such as energy management, demand response, and energy efficiency to an entirely new level through sophisticated yet economical hardware and software. And by looking at not just a haphazard array of connected devices, but rather holistically through the lens of an Industrial Internet, Current plans to analyze energy consumption and provide customers with data around patterns and needs along with recommendations to increase efficiency – from reducing power levels, to generating power on site to creating new revenue streams for customers through the use of sensors and networked systems in buildings. These advanced solutions will help customers save an estimated 10-20% on their energy bills, and help utility partners better manage their distributed load. According to Jeff Immelt, GE’s Chairman and CEO,

Current combines GE’s products and services in energy efficiency, solar, storage, and onsite power with our digital and analytical capabilities to provide customers – hospitals, universities, retail stores, and cities – with more profitable energy solutions. . . . The creation of a new company within GE reinforces our commitment to take energy to the next level, focusing on custom outcomes for our Commercial & Industrial customers, municipalities and utility partners, and delivering a platform that can be upgraded as technology advancements are made.

Led by GE veteran Maryrose Sylvester, who told BloombergBusiness that “We’re ready to pull it all together into an overall suite of actions and solutions for customers,” Current is well-positioned to revolutionize how customer think about and use electricity. Speaking about the new business’s prospects, Sylvester said “The opportunity is massive.” Some of Current’s initial customers include Walgreens, Simon Property Group, Hilton Worldwide, PPMorgan Chase, Hospital Corporation of America, Intel, and Trane.

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