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Smart grids are the EV fuel of the future | Automotive World

Utilities need reliable connectivity to fully adopt new technologies that will enable the switch to electric, writes TJ Fox

Electrification is one of the hottest topics in automotive right now, but if any significant percentage of vehicles on the road were to go electric overnight, could the power grid handle it? The technology being built into electric and connected cars is some of the most impressive ever seen in the vehicle space, but the grid that will power those vehicles is lagging behind.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), about 16 million electric cars consume roughly 30 terawatt-hours of electricity per year across the globe—the equivalent of all the electricity generated in Ireland. That’s a lot of vehicles drawing massive amounts of power from an aging electrical grid as nearly 70% of US transmission lines are more than 25 years old. As impressive as that may sound, it’s nothing compared with what’s to come.

Spurred by surging consumer demand, partly driven by government incentives like tax credits available for consumers under the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, automakers continue to announce new investments in electric vehicles (EVs) and add new models to their forthcoming lineups. In fact, by 2030, the number of EVs could reach 26.4 million on US roads, and 145 million globally, according to the IEA.

Powering a future where EVs could eventually outnumber internal combustion engines will require smarter grid technology

As we advance toward what feels like an inevitable EV centric future, utilities companies need reliable connectivity to fully adopt new technologies that will enable the switch to electric. That switch won’t happen overnight, of course, but it’s critical that to develop grid and vehicle solutions now that can ease the transition. Burgeoning technology like distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) could facilitate the shift and help safeguard the promises of an EV future, relying on connected intelligence to help manage the swelling number of grid inputs and outputs.

Adding network intelligence to the grid

Adding more capacity might help with peak electrical demand, but powering a future where EVs could eventually outnumber internal combustion engines will require smarter grid technology. Getting to a more intelligent grid means adding reliable cellular connectivity to grid infrastructure and leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which can help unlock new energy management possibilities like intelligent demand response—better balancing the load during peak EV charging periods and even automatically shifting non-essential loads from periods of peak demand to other times of the day—and the aforementioned DERMS.

Powered by modern high-speed data networks, DERMS allows real-time communication and control across the batteries, solar panels, and other devices that normally lie behind the meter and outside grid operators’ direct control.

A DERMS gives utility operators dealing with decentralised energy sources a way to streamline the management of energy production, ultimately making electricity prices more predictable and power distribution more reliable. But where it really becomes interesting is pairing that energy-management intelligence with the combined storage capacity of all the EVs on the road.

Transforming the grid model with EVs

A smarter grid done right, in seamless communication with connected EVs, could completely change the way electric energy is stored, managed, and distributed, opening the door to a bi-directional charging economy. Because a DERMS relies on both IoT sensors and receivers to facilitate network-wide coordination, infusing the grid with the intelligence of a modern data network, EVs can become a key part of any distributed energy network, oscillating between taking from and replenishing the grid as needed.

Fermata Energy’s V2X system is saving the City of Boulder money on their energy costs at the North Boulder Recreation Center (photo courtesy of the City of Boulder)

Imagine the benefits of a connected, intelligent energy management solution for EVs as an innovative way to store and redistribute energy reserves. Electric school buses could be used as batteries as they sit unused during summers and school breaks, storing energy and distributing it back into the grid during heat waves. Fleet operators could repurpose their idle vehicles and supply energy to the grid during peak demand. Homeowners, too, can enjoy the benefits by powering their homes with their EVs if needed during a power outage.

Companies like Fermata Energy are already collaborating with local governments to build vehicle-to-building technology that turns EVs into mini power plants by discharging their batteries back into homes, buildings or the energy grid. Featuring a bidirectional charger connected both to an EV and a building’s energy load, Fermata Energy’s cloud-based software uses Verizon 5G Edge and AWS Wavelength to react to changes in the grid. This system load-balances data in near real-time with very low latency, allowing Fermata Energy to dispatch an EV as a valuable energy resource providing near real-time response to the state of the grid, which can offer critical support in emergency situations and extreme weather conditions.

Powering the future of EVs

The EV revolution remains in the early stages, but already the industry is seeing potentially beneficial innovations sprout up around it. To make smart bi-directional charging successful as a mainstream option, there will need to be more collaboration between telecommunication carriers, energy providers and EV manufacturers to ensure that the grid is prepared to handle an increase in demand brought on by the influx of EVs and that these connected cars will be able to communicate with the grid in a meaningful way. Connectivity is the backbone for that collaboration, underpinning the intelligence, seamless integration, and communication that will need to come together to fuel the EV future.


About the author: TJ Fox is Senior Vice President, Industrial IoT and Automotive, at Verizon Business

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