AEP gears up for electric vehicle disruption on distribution grid

The influx of electric vehicles will likely be one of the single biggest disruptions in the electric distribution system since the emergence of central air conditioning, George Bjelovuk, managing director of enterprise technology with American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP), said Sept. 22.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that – with electric vehicles, that is, he said.

“AEP has been a big advocate of electric transportation,” he told TransmissionHub at the 3rd annual Renewable Energy Technology Conference & Exhibition, hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy and organized by TradeFair Group. The event was held in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a great technology that can make a significant impact on the nation’s consumption for oil,” he said. “We just have to address the near term of these infrastructure [and] charging issues and work with the automobile manufacturers.”

Charging an electric vehicle at home is analogous to having two refrigerators, he noted. If everyone plugged in their electric vehicles at once, there could be massive disruptions on the distribution system. Alleviating that requires advanced communication and might require upgrades of the distribution system, he said. “It’s going to be an interesting transition to watch over the next 10 years,” Bjelovuk said.

During his presentation, he discussed the company’s smart grid demonstration effort helped by the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to its website, through its gridSMART demonstration project in northeast central Ohio and other tests, AEP Ohio is developing a program to integrate electric vehicles into the electric system. Specifically, as part of the project, up to 10 people will drive an electric vehicle as part of their daily routine, showing the amount of power needed to accommodate basic travel needs, among other things, according to the site.

The company is expected to produce a report for the DOE, Bjelovuk said. Among other things, he noted that the nation’s population centers do not necessarily correspond with where the largest potential for bulk renewable generation is located. The answer to that is to build a 765,000-volt overlay across these resources, he said.

It took AEP 13 years to get the siting and regulatory agreements for the Wyoming-Cloverdale transmission line built, he said, citing the need for improvement.

“We’re going to need some fundamental changes in order to be able to build this interstate highway system for bulk power in this country,” he said. “We’re going to need some fundamental changes for that to happen in the future.”

Transmission operators need to work with the RTOs and look at this not just from a regional standpoint or from an interconnect standpoint, but on a broader basis.

Bjelovuk also discussed the company’s efforts on storage technology, including “community energy storage,” which is a battery-based storage system that provides a limited amount of backup power to customers who are connected to that unit during a power outage.

According to AEP Ohio, a community energy storage unit uses lithium-ion batteries and has sensing technology that recognizes when a home served off of the unit loses electric power. When a power outage occurs, the community energy storage battery automatically provides power to the home, according to the company.

William Holmes, chair of the renewable energy initiative with Stoel Rives, said during his presentation that energy storage has several uses in the smart grid.

Most common types of renewables are intermittent resources, typically wind and solar, he said, adding that energy storage can be used to balance the system and “keep the lights on.”

Storage classification is an issue, he said, noting that in some cases it has been classified as generation, and as transmission in others. There are proceedings in California, Texas and at FERC to address the matter, he said. Another speaker,

Audrey Zibelman, chairman, president and CEO of Viridity Energy, said, what is needed is a uniform approach, at the federal and state levels, on how these resources are going to be treated and the types of programs that utilities can put into place.

“The technology is here,” she said. “The only thing that’s going to slow the deployment of the technology is a regulatory regime which requires vendors and utilities to individually negotiate and the uncertainty created by these types of regulatory regimes. So things like integrating storage, treating storage as a resource on the grid [and] treating load as a resource on the grid…would be extremely useful, as well as allowing utilities to use load as a resource in combination with generation.”

About Corina Rivera-Linares 2888 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.