EVs Are a Disruptive Force. Smart Microgrids Are the Answer to Manage the Disruption

March 12, 2021
Siemens’ Scott Kessler describes electric vehicles (EVs ) as classic disruptive technology and explains how microgrids manage the disruption.

Scott Kessler, head of Microgrid Strategy & Sales at Siemens, describes electric vehicles (EVs) as classic disruptive technology and explains how microgrids manage the disruption.

The headlines in 2021 from automakers making bold EV commitments have been dizzying.

Scott Kessler, Microgrid Strategy & Sales, Siemens

Jaguar, Volvo and General Motors have pledged to make 100% electric vehicles by 2025, 2030 and 2035, respectively. Ford will offer only EVs in Europe by 2030. Tesla sales doubled in China in 2020, even while Chinese EV upstarts Nio, Li Auto and Xpeng gained stronger footholds.  

Policymakers aren’t standing still, either. California will phase out internal-combustion engine vehicles from its roads by 2035. The Biden administration signaled it will tighten fuel efficiency standards to push SUVs and trucks toward electrification.

EVs are coming — that much is clear. But will the power grid be ready? How will electricity prices and grid reliability change when more EVs show up in retail or employee parking lots and businesses electrify their fleets?

Those are questions with major implications for every organization, whether it’s a business adding EV charging stations to its staff parking lot or big corporations planning to operate hundreds of electric maintenance vehicles.

Why microgrids are an intelligent solution to manage the coming EV revolution

Businesses often have three primary motivations when considering development of a microgrid:

  1. Optimize energy costs
  2. Achieve company sustainability goals
  3. Ensure reliability of operations

The EV revolution ups the ante for all three.

The added demand from EVs charging on a company’s meters can mean a big increase in electric costs. And when fleet operators make the decision to transition to EVs, it can be a rude awakening to discover the needs of the fleet exceed the capacity of the existing local infrastructure, resulting in added expense and extended waits for their electric utility to complete upgrades. 

For businesses addressing imperatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increased electricity demand from EVs means an increased carbon footprint if the vehicles are charged with power from the grid. However, a microgrid can ensure those EVs are charged with on-site renewable energy. 

Regarding reliability, power grid failures disrupting business operations for days, or even weeks, are part of every extreme weather event, be it a cold front in Texas, wildfires in California or a hurricane on the East Coast. More EVs make it more difficult for the grid to meet demand during these events and leaves EV owners stranded when it fails.

Microgrids solve both sides of the reliability equation, helping the grid shed load to remain operational, providing a power source to keep EVs moving, and keeping the lights on so business can continue.

How smart controls turn microgrids into an easy button for managing EVs

A microgrid with smart controls has the ability to coordinate supply from the microgrid’s power sources, demand from EVs in need of a charge and market signals from the grid based on macroconsumption patterns.

Take, for example, an employer that typically sees employees plug-in in the staff parking lot after returning to work from lunch. On a hot summer day, the increased afternoon load could be a costly problem. But the smart microgrid controller will use weather and grid demand forecasts as well as analyze data from its own consumption patterns to optimize the cost.

The solutions can be as simple as slowing the rate by which EVs on the system charge, toggling supply priorities between EVs and HVAC systems based on temperature, or storing more electricity from a solar system on a sunny day if the next day is forecast to be cloudy. 

In markets where microgrids sell energy back to the grid, the EV revolution — combined with smart microgrid controls — can even be a revenue opportunity, but vehicle-to-grid solutions in which EV batteries operate as a mini power source are still in their infancy.

Real-time, smart control systems that manage the microgrid well are the key.

A smart microgrid controller like the one used in Princeton, New Jersey, can be set with specific protocols to meet the unique needs and patterns of the system owner, and those protocols can be changed as needs change. Systems like these control the microgrid’s assets and analyze data to optimize system benefits automatically. Monitoring and benchmarking provides continual system improvement through machine learning, revealing insights that lead to behavior changes.

EVs are emerging as a classic disruptive technology. Fortunately, microgrid and smart control technologies are advancing at a pace to manage the disruption to the power market.

Scott Kessler is the head of Microgrid Strategy & Sales at Siemens.

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