AWEA: Investments to modernize electricity infrastructure needed to support EVs, renewables

While consumers have made it clear that they want their electricity grid to support electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy, doing so will require investments to modernize the electricity infrastructure, including EV charging infrastructure, renewable energy additions, and transmission expansion, according to an American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) report released on Jan. 24.

The smartest way to approach those investments is to develop a comprehensive electrification strategy – an electrification deployment program coupled with renewable capacity additions and transmission investment at the same time, AWEA said.

As electricity providers play a central role in managing the grid and delivering electricity to consumers, with proper planning, they are well positioned to design and manage an electrification strategy, AWEA said.

AWEA noted that electricity providers can, for instance:

  • Procure renewable energy needed to serve electrification demand, either through power purchase agreements (PPAs) or through direct investment and ownership. They can also make critical transmission investments needed to bring wind and solar resources to consumers, and coordinate with grid operators on proactive transmission planning strategies
  • Leverage capital resources to fund an electrification deployment program
  • Remain cost-effective as they pursue their electrification strategies

An electrification deployment program will have a higher chance of success if it follows certain principles taken from the Transportation Electrification Accord, such as that utilities should proactively engage their regulators, consumers, and all stakeholders in developing rate designs, infrastructure deployment programs, as well as education and outreach efforts that benefit all utility customers and allow reasonable cost recovery, while accelerating widespread transportation electrification that supports a reliable and robust grid, AWEA said.

There are other elements to consider when designing an electrification program, AWEA said, adding that those elements include recognizing that electric companies are all different, with unique geographies and consumer demographics.

As AWEA noted, the report – or guidance document – provides the tools and resources needed to help electricity providers, state legislatures, and state regulators create and approve electrification programs, with a focus on how to effectively structure an electrification deployment program coupled with renewable capacity additions and transmission investment at the same time.

Electrification – or energy conversion – is commonly described as the transition to electricity powered end-use technologies, including EVs, air source heat pumps, and heat pump water heaters, AWEA said. There is a growing body of evidence that electrification of the U.S. transportation, building, and industrial sectors will increase U.S. electricity demand in the long term, AWEA said, noting that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), for instance, estimates that electrification could boost electricity load growth up to 38% nationwide in comparison to a 2050 Reference Scenario baseline.

Transportation electrification is expected to provide the most significant demand increases, in the near term and through 2050, AWEA said, adding that NREL estimates that the country could have as many as 240 million light-duty EVs, 7 million medium- and heavy duty electric trucks, and 80,000 battery electric transit buses on the road by the middle of the century.

In the nearer term, the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that there could be about 2.9 million EVs on the road in the United States by 2022, bringing more than 11,000 GWh of new demand to the electricity grid, AWEA said. About 200,000 EVs were sold in the United States in 2017, an increase from the approximately 17,000 vehicles sold in 2011, AWEA said.

Policymakers at the state and local level across the United States are recognizing their constituencies’ growing preference for EVs and are setting ambitious targets in response, AWEA said. For example, former California Gov. Edmund Brown Jr., in 2018 signed an executive order calling for 5 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) to be on the road in the state by 2030, AWEA said.

AWEA noted that as support grows for transportation electrification, there is growth in, and support for, renewable energy generation across the power sector. Looking to the past five years, renewable energy accounted for the majority of new capacity installations in the United States, or about 60% of new installations, AWEA said.

Continued growth depends on critical transmission investment to serve all energy sources, AWEA said, adding that the nation’s high-voltage transmission system represents one of the most critical national infrastructure priorities. At the end of 2017, there were about 180 GW of wind capacity and 188 GW of solar capacity waiting in interconnection queues nationwide at the end of 2017, AWEA said, adding that a significant percentage of those projects will not be realized due to a lack of available transmission capacity.

While proactive transmission planning is time-sensitive and complex, it is critical for grid operators, electric utilities, and state regulators to coordinate as soon as possible on transmission investment to fully realize the benefits that renewable resources could provide for all electricity consumers, AWEA said.

Among other things, AWEA said that state legislatures are a critical stakeholder for electricity providers as they pursue electrification strategies. The report included example legislation that said, in part: “On a biennial basis, electric utilities will develop and submit to the Commission a 5-year plan and a 10-year plan for EVs and related infrastructure investments with the goal of ‘widespread transportation electrification,’ until such time as the Commission determines that it is no longer necessary for such plans to be filed.”

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.