Matching Groove to Grid: How Managing EV Charging can satisfy Drivers & Utilities

Aug. 23, 2022
Last week, SMUD and BMW announced their partnership in the Managed Electric Vehicle Charging Pilot, designed to introduce some predictability and reduce stress on the grid during peak hours of demand. The MEVC pilot also involves Ford and GM

A key hurdle for prospective electric vehicle owners is knowing that the charging infrastructure will make sense in both cost and reliability at the right time.

For utilities, the biggest question beyond investment is how to make sure EV charging demand does not overwhelm them at the wrong time.

Both issues are in play today as an e-Mobility transition slowly ramps up. The latter challenge for power providers is being handled in a new pilot involving the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, BMW and other automakers.

Last week, SMUD and BMW announced their partnership in the Managed Electric Vehicle Charging Pilot, designed to introduce some predictability and reduce stress on the grid during peak hours of demand. The MEVC pilot also involves Ford and GM.

“Our role is to reach out to our customers to enroll them in the program,” said Adam Langton, energy services manager for BMW North America, in an interview with EnergyTech. “We have the existing relationships with our EV drivers, and we reach out to BMW EV drivers in the SMUD territory and encourage them to enroll.”

Once enrolled, the communications software alerts those drivers when it is best and least expensive to charge their EVs. SMUD sends BMW and other participants the pricing signals for various times of use, and the automakers communicate that to drivers.

Actually, Langton noted, “we communicate that directly to the vehicle, to charge certain times and not charge certain times.”

For example, if an EV owner lets them know they plug in at 8 p.m. and will leave at 8 a.m., it is BMW’s job to determine the best periods to activate charging so it serves multiple objectives—the owner’s convenience and pocketbook, the utility’s grid planning objective and BMW’s EV fleet.

“We look at the state of charge and conditions on the grid,” Langton added.

From SMUD’s perspective, the pilot will show the utility how effective the automakers are in shifting load to ensure smooth grid operations. Utilities are working to expand investment in charging infrastructure and handle home charging as the EV market grows in adoption.

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“This pilot program and the lessons we’ll learn are important to help ensure that we chart a path forward that provides a seamless and easy customer experience while also balancing grid reliability and energy supply needs in a way that benefits all customers,” Ed Hamzawi, the Director of Advanced Energy Solutions at SMUD, in an earlier statement. “We are thrilled to have GM, Ford and BMW as our partners for this project and look forward to our collaboration to further the growth and adoption of electric vehicles in a sustainable and equitable manner.”

BMW is working with four other utilities on its smart charging software system. The others included Pacific Gas & Electric, also in California, Michigan’s DTE Energy, Xcel Energy in Colorado and National Grid in the northeastern U.S.

All of the major automakers are promising a sizable shift to electric vehicles by the end of the decade. At the same time, car owners and fleet operators are wary because the infrastructure is not quite ready yet.

And utilities are hesitant to take quantum leaps in financing charging infrastructure without the resulting positive impact of greater electricity demand. It’s basically a multi-billion-dollar chicken and egg kind of dilemma.

The Biden Administration’s two primary legislative victories, the Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, both allocate billions of dollars toward credits for buying electric vehicles and to build a greater network of charging instructure.

“The new investments in infrastructure are going to be really important,” BMW’s Langton said, noting most of the EV and charging growth so far is on the West and East Coasts. “It’s going to get more states involved in building infrastructure. Customers can then see infrastructure get out there before the vehicles and that’s going to really drive sales.”

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(Rod Walton, senior editor for EnergyTech, is a 14-year veteran of covering the energy industry both as a newspaper and trade journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]).

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