Electric vehicles (EVs) are here and growing rapidly in number. They require charging infrastructure and energy to charge, opening the way for new business models and revenue streams for utilities and others.
While clearly the utilities are key players in terms of energy provision and needing to maintain the integrity of the grid, provision and ownership of charging infrastructure is an area open to innovators, particularly as in some jurisdictions – e.g. in Europe, as specified in the Clean Energy Package – utility ownership is restricted.
So what are some of these? At the first Engerati Meet on EVs and the Grid, we caught up with both utilities and new entrants to explore what innovations these companies are bringing to the market.
DSO and energy retailer perspectives
Joachim Gruber, Staff CTO at the west German distribution system operator (DSO) Netze BW, says that services the company provides so far are on the installation and maintenance of charging infrastructures.
“As a DSO we can’t offer services directly to the customer and so we are offering the services to the operators of charging infrastructure,” he says.
But looking further ahead he continues that challenges will emerge in maintaining the stability of the grid as the numbers of EVs grow.
“The numbers are still too small to have an impact and we don’t expect major issues to arise in the next two to three years, but we do have to be prepared for future.”
As such, he notes there is little value in EV services currently but that will change in the future. “The value will be in being able to switch the EVs off. They are creating a problem and we need a lever to manage that.”
Gonçalo Castelo Branco, Head Smart Mobility at Portuguese energy retailer EDP Commercial, likewise says that as yet EVs aren’t being driven in significant numbers in the countries where the company has its operation, Portugal, Spain or Brazil but the company views them as a reality. As such only the basic services are being offered.
“We see EVs a great opportunity as we see the future of mobility as shared, autonomous and electric and new business models will arise,” he says. “Utilities are not necessarily the number one player but they are part of the ecosystem. We can offer basics like wallbox chargers and rate plans but we believe we can add more with services beyond charging, such as integrating the EV with storage and solar PV. We are not there yet but see it happening soon.”
Looking ahead to assess the impacts of EVs, Gruber says that Netze has several projects under way including its own fleet of vehicles and a parking garage with 30 charging points. Findings indicate that at most just 30% of the vehicles have charged at the same time, providing minimal impact.
“We don’t know what the future will bring but at present the figures aren’t demonstrating the [charging] nightmares people have been talking about.”
Netze also is about to start a new project in a street with 10 homes with EVs to test their reactions to incentives, the use of different types of chargers and the use of storage as a buffer.
For its part, EDP Commercial has introduced a 10% discounted EV nighttime charging tariff, but it is too new to evaluate the customer reaction, Castelo Branco says.
“Smart charging will be a reality soon and there are platforms for that and we will need it,” he comments. “We have experience with customers on energy efficiency and we learned that we need to do it on behalf of the customer. So, we need a solution that is simple for customers that assures them they are paying the minimum they can and that their vehicle is sufficiently charged when they need it. That is part of the added value we need to bring.”
The virtual power plant
The Polish energy management solutions provider Virtual Power Plant brings a novel approach to the EV charging business model arena. The proposition is to shift energy saved from energy efficiency initiatives to charge the EVs.
“Our starting point is the energy efficiency business model providing benefits to both customers and utilities,” Grzegorz Nowaczewski, CEO and Cofounder, Virtual Power Plant, told Engerati in an interview at the Meet.
Following pilots, the technology is now being deployed commercially with the Polish energy company Tauron.
Nowaczewski says that generally around 15% of the building’s energy profile could be shared with EVs. So, in reference to the Katowice International Congress Centre, where Virtual Power Plant has an energy management contract and which happens to be the seat of the COP24 meeting, “during the day we should be able to fast charge six or seven vehicles.”
As such, he adds the technology should be of interest to DSOs in particular in assisting them to build and get a return on the investment in new business models. “We see the opportunity as a bridge from the present to future services.”
EV charging for hotels
Swiss startup Echarge brings yet another alternative to the EV charging opportunity, focussed on hotels. The company has the goal to instal 50,000 charging stations in 10,000 hotels along with the provision of 10,000 EVs for guest servicing.
“This enables our business model to break even within nine months,” says Echarge founder Markus Dold, commenting that the charging points are bought and contracted to the hotel for a 7-year period while the vehicles are leased from the auto companies.
“The car we provide is the key so that one charging station is always used by the hotel.”
Alongside this Echarge has developed a blockchain-based load balancing solution to manage the charging process and ensure the contracted load is not exceeded across the five charge points.
“We can always change the peak power limit in the software as more EVs appear but usually in hotels guests stay for a long period like overnight which can be used for charging. Also, the battery may not need to be charged fully and the guest may need only 80% for the next journey,” Dold comments.
He adds that the number of five charge points was selected for the growth of EVs. In cases he has seen of only one or two chargers available at a site, the concierge has to monitor the charging and re-park the vehicles.
For Dold, this initiative is a phase one in the management of EVs. Phase two will be vehicle-to-grid, which will involve adding an inverter at a cost a few thousand euros to the charging stations.
“It’s all existing technology. We liken the charging infrastructure to an app store and we make the money out of the energy trade at the end.”
Then phase three will be what he calls vehicle-to-vehicle when the numbers of EVs and their charging requirements grow to the extent that grid reinforcement is needed. “Intelligent vehicle-to-vehicle charging and solar panels on the roof and batteries in the building will all have a role.”