SoCal Edison Launches the US’ Biggest Smart EV Charging Pilot Program

EV chargingFor utilities of the future, electric vehicles will be a key source of renewable load growth. But as more EVs get out on the road, the need for electric power will only increase — which could wreak havoc during times of peak demand.

One solution is to get EV drivers on board with demand-response programs. Otherwise, utilities won’t be able to save that extra energy for the grid when it’s needed most. Trouble is, though, that they don’t really know just how these drivers would respond to the idea, since pairing a utility’s demand response programs and smart EV charging — which slows or stops charging of electric vehicles when electricity demand is at its peak — is a new concept.

[Editor’s note: This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the start date of the pilot as well as the technical name of the charging standard.]

That might change in the future, thanks to a new pilot project announced today by Southern California Edison (SCE) — one of the country’s largest electric utilities with more than 14 million customers — and EV charging network company Greenlots.

“This project is unique because it’s the largest demo of demand response charging in the U.S.” said Lin-Zhuang Khoo, Greenlots senior vice president. “There’s no common standard or common best practices [in demand response EV charging].”

SCE believes that the pilot will give the utility insight on how to integrate EVs into its demand response programs, as well as contribute to two key pieces of California’s environmental agenda: 1) to get 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles out on the road by 2025 and 2) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions levels to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2025.

“This project will help SCE determine how to extend demand response to thousands of EV drivers, will help SCE support California’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions and EV adoption goals and allow workplaces to use power wisely,” said SCE’s Tom Walker in a statement.

ev chargingThe pilot — which received three years of funding from California’s Public Utilities Commission — started at the beginning of October 2014 with 80 of SCE’s Level 2 charging stations (which the utility owns) located at nine SCE facilities.

Employees were able to charge their EVs for free or a flat fee until last month, when SCE launched the demand response phase of the pilot. In demand-response charging, customers must agree to two potential prices before charging — the standard price, and a higher version that will be implemented if the utility announces a peak demand event. (SCE would not to disclose the two price points.)

Drivers are notified by text message an hour before a peak demand event will occur. Khoo says that Greenlots is working towards real-time notifications in the future.

The pilot is also significant in that the charging network is the first of its kind to use open standards protocol in vehicle-to-grid integration — an important distinction, since utilities are left vulnerable using charging networks with proprietary standards (as evidenced when ECOtality went bankrupt, causing 13,000 commercial and residential charging stations to stop working). Greenlots is the first EV charging company to receive certification to use the Open ADR 2.0b standard.

SCE and Greenlot’s pilot will run through the rest of this year, and have an option to extend it through 2016, Khoo says.

It’s the second such pilot to be announced in California over the course of two months. In January, Pacific Gas & Electric company revealed its partnership with BMW to launch a demand response charging program with 100 of its i3 electric vehicles.

“It’s a learning process,” Khoo said of the project. “SCE wants to see how effective and efficient it is to manage individual charge stations or if it makes sense to go through a third party … we’re open to feedback from the public and how [demand response] can best work with EV charging.”

Top photo CC-licensed by Akira ASKR on Flickr; project demo photo courtesy of Greenlots.

Kristine Wong
Author: Kristine Wong

Kristine Wong is a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food. Her work has been featured in The Guardian (UK / US), The Huffington Post, GreenBiz, and other publications. Before becoming a journalist, she worked in community-based environmental and public health organizations for more than 10 years as a researcher and community organizer. She has degrees in natural resources and journalism from U.C. Berkeley and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Washington. Follow her on Twitter @wongkxt.

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