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What infrastructure for California’s EV mandate could look like

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Energy Global,

Many question whether California’s grid US can handle the upgrade needed to meet the state’s recent executive order requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035, meaning a major transition to electric vehicles (EV) and other alternatives. With new thinking, it can.

The greatest challenge for utilities will be how to manage the load and motivate people to stagger charging their vehicles, instead of everyone waiting until they are home in the evening during off-peak renewable generation periods. The way we currently operate, individual energy usage seems like an independent, isolated event to consumers and households. EVs will require everyone to be more aware of their demand on the grid and act more as communities sharing energy.

Currently, utility scale batteries are used for their most simplistic capabilities, in California, that means standalone sites dedicated to peak shaving. But as renewable energy penetration increases and flexible loads such as EVs are added, load management and peak demand will be exacerbated, necessitating a new cohesive approach to the grid.

A stable power system for EVs combines utilities with a network of subsystems where energy storage is co-located with EVs, while intelligent energy management software handles the synchronisation among all assets. Configuring energy storage for each new scenario is like solving a puzzle and putting in place the missing piece that resolves system resiliency. For EV infrastructure, that puzzle looks more complex with many nodes and connections in between.

This takes pressure off of the main grid and allows for tailored flexibility and better cost management. Because, while the main grid will have storage assets, municipalities and other partners can supplement with their own storage systems and charging stations that will not have to be tied to the grid where it is subject to price spikes. This network of storage systems, paired with energy management and pricing incentives that influence consumer behaviour can create the certainty that utilities need to ensure a consistent supply of energy.

California is currently exploring what kind of charging network will work best for the state — private or utility-owned.

There is already an example they can look to for learnings. Pivot Power in the UK is developing the world's largest transmission-connected battery storage and EV charging network. The UK has similarly set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to be net-zero by 2050.

Pivot Power’s system integrates Wärtsilä’s GridSolv Max energy storage solution with EV charging stations along the UK grid and motorways, all optimised by GEMS software onsite. GEMS dynamically adjusts according to the demands of the markets across multiple revenue streams, allowing Pivot Power to both manage and optimise a fleet of large-scale energy storage systems and renewable assets under a single portfolio. These storage projects have created an infrastructure that can scale to accommodate projected growth in and the switch to EV throughout the UK.

This kind of infrastructure could be adapted in California to connect to the utility grid, and increase capacity further by adding local municipal systems. Combined, this becomes an extensive intelligent network that is capable of consistently supplying the amount of power needed to support EV infrastructure.

As systems are real world tested, they will need the ability to adapt to how energy is used and moved around on the grid and how revenue can be maximised over time. The intelligent design of storage agnostic, AI based energy management systems will future-proof EV infrastructure from the very beginning so that it can adapt and evolve as we learn over time.

The idea of EV infrastructure in an area as large as California is no longer just an idea. The technology and renewable energy industry have reached the maturity to deliver and bring this kind of infrastructure to fruition. All that is needed now is a collaborative mindset among stakeholders.

- Andrew Tang is Vice President of Energy Storage & Optimisation for Wärtsilä Energy Business.

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