Hitachi is Positioned to Address the Impact of Electric Vehicles on the Grid

By Hubert Yoshida posted 02-03-2021 22:24

At the end of January, the New York Times published an article by Brad Plummer “Electric Cars Are Coming, and Fast. Is the Nation’s Grid Up to It?”. This was triggered by the announcement of the United States’ largest automobile manufacturer, General Motors, to exclusively offer electric vehicles by 2035, ending production of its cars, trucks and SUVs with diesel- and gas-powered engines. This increase in planned electric vehicles was an increase from 20 that were slated to hit the market in 2023. GM said that this was made possible by the new, flexible Ultium battery platform which can be adapted to a variety of different vehicles. This new battery could give vehicles a range of 450 miles and battery costs would drop by 60% by the middle of this decade bringing EVs closer to cost parity with gas powered vehicles. Other Auto makers are also making advances in EV and battery technologies, which are quickly eroding the objections to electric vehicles. This, announcement by GM could mean that the U.S. would join Europe and China where the  majority of vehicle sales will be EV by 2030.

This massive change will have enormous impact on the ability of utilities to support the demand for electricity, especially in the United States where EVs make up only 1% of the vehicles on the road today. The average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles — the same amount of electricity an average American home uses each day to run appliances, computers, lights and heating and air conditioning. While they may consume about the Same amount of electricity, EVs consume it very differently.

The main difference is that an EV runs on batteries and they demand a lot of electricity in a relatively short period of time when they need to be charged. Today it takes about 6 to 12 hours to charge up a Tesla with a standard liquid Lithium battery. EV manufacturers are expected to convert to solid state Lithium batteries in the near future which will have twice the charge capacity and the solid state would enable them to safely charge in 1/6 the time of  liquid lithium batteries without the danger of burning up. Residential home owners can install chargers in their garage and set the timer to charge during off peak hours. EV owners who don’t have their own charging stations will need to charge during the day at kiosks which may be more costly.

Electricity demand fluctuates throughout the day; demand is higher during daytime hours, peaking in the early evening. If many people buy electric vehicles and start to charge right when they get home from work (which is necessary if it takes 12 hours to charge) the system could get overloaded or force utilities to deliver more electricity than they’re currently capable of producing. A U.S. Department of Energy study found that increased electrification across all sectors of the economy could boost national consumption by as much as 38% by 2050, in large part because of electric vehicles. The environmental benefit of electric cars depends on the electricity being generated by renewables which is more dependent on the vagaries of weather than fossil fueled plants. A smart grid will need to sense the changes in weather and what the EV charging demands will be. Since most vehicles are used for commuting, they sit idle during the day when the photovoltaic power was most plentiful. This provides the opportunity to store electricity in the EV batteries if charging could be done during the day rather than in the evenings. 

Hitachi has been studying the requirements of EV and Smart Grids for many years. In 2011 Hitachi joined a joint US-Japan collaboration supporting a Smart Grid project on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Hitachi coordinated the entire project, serving as the project leader. The project goal was to verify the use of advanced technologies in a smart grid where the use of large volumes of renewable energy was already in place, (at that time 15% of Hawaii’s electricity was generated by renewable energy) to contribute to smart grid standards, and to implement a low-carbon social infrastructure system that efficiently uses renewable energy on a remote island where electricity costs are relatively high, and electricity could not be purchased and transported from sources outside of the Island.

Another major issue that was recognized was cyber-security" and energy integrity - which is the point of a "smart grid." A grid which consists of hundreds of high voltage towers strung with miles of exposed cable across sensitive landscape, thousands of power poles, miles of wire, transformers, breaker boxes, switches and power conditioning hardware can be a disaster waiting to happen as we discovered in California where wild fires these past few summers were caused by downed power lines. The additional software for energy management (EMS), distribution management (DMS), SCADA, and IoT also increases cyber-security concerns. “Smart Grids” expose energy production and distribution to higher levels of security vulnerability than ever before. Security is a key feature in Hitachi’s Lumada IoT architecture.

Based on this feasibility study, a pilot  project was implemented in 2015. In December of 2019, Hawaiian Electric was awarded Utility of Year by the annual Utility Dive awards which highlights the biggest trends in innovation in the electric utility sector. 

Among U.S. utilities today, "Hawaiian Electric stands out; they're beyond the bleeding edge," Patty Cook, Senior Vice President with ICF's commercial energy practice, told Utility Dive this fall.

They have it all happening at the same time — integrated grid planning, stakeholder outreach dominated by DER providers (Distributed Energy Resources - customer-owned generation through their unregulated subsidiaries), transportation electrification, plus a 100% renewable energy goal — and they do a pretty good job of handling it, she said, adding that "their issues are all the issues that everyone will be dealing with."

While the Hawaii project provided a great deal of learning, in regard to the use of EV personal vehicles, the use of EV commercial vehicles has different requirements. The main difference being its continuous use during the day and the need to fast charge to minimize down time. Commercial fleets would also have substantial battery storage and long periods where they’re idle, such as evenings and weekends, and even longer periods for vehicles like school busses that are idle during the summer and the holiday season when school is out. The batteries on a bus could store as much as 10 times the electricity needed to power a home for a day.

In 2018 Hitachi joined the Optimise Prime Project in the UK. Optimise Prime is the world’s biggest trial of commercial EVs. It seeks to understand and minimize the impact that the electrification of commercial vehicles will have on distribution networks. It is developing technical and commercial solutions to save customer costs (estimated to £207m savings by 2030) and enable the faster transition to electric for commercial fleets and private hire vehicle operators. The project is also vital if the UK wants to meet its carbon reduction targets. The accelerated adoption of commercial EVs will save 2.7m tons of CO2, equivalent to London’s entire bus fleet running for four years or a full Boeing 747-400 travelling around the world 1,484 times. The flexibility provided by this project will also free up enough capacity on the electricity network to supply a million homes.

Last Year Hitachi acquired ABB Power Grids and formed a new company Hitachi ABB to tackle the renewable and distributed energy frontiers of the power industry. This instantly makes Hitachi one of the largest global grid equipment and service providers, drastically expanding its access to the utility segment in all regions. This in combination with the experience and leadership that Hitachi has gained in Energy Management and Distribution Management Systems driven by the demands of private and commercial EVs. Hitachi ABB Power Grids has joined with Fortress Information Security (Fortress) as a participant in its Asset to Vendor Network (A2V), which will enable the company to quickly and seamlessly share information about its cybersecurity preparedness with United States and Canada-based power utilities. Hitachi is well positioned to securely address the increased electrification needs across all sectors of the economy which could boost national consumption by as much as 38% by 2050 as projected by the U.S. Dept. of Energy.
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