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The road ahead: meeting the e-mobility challenge

July 08, 2019  |  Article
Electric Vehicle

The IESO’s role is to get out in front of change, without getting in the way of progress.

Terry Young, Vice-President, Policy, Engagement and Innovation, IESO

“We’re engaging in an industry-wide conversation right now, because it’s absolutely critical to ensure grid reliability considerations are built into any future solutions as soon as possible, not after the fact. And it’s not a one-way street. EVs themselves may one day contribute to improved reliability and affordability of the electricity system,” he said, pointing to pilot vehicle-to-grid plans, which enable them to feed energy back into the grid.

The stakes are high, and to put electrification in context, consider this:

  • According to the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook 2018, over one million electric vehicles were sold worldwide in 2017 – an increase of 54 per cent over the previous year.
  • The total number of EVs on the road, globally, reached 3.1 million in 2017, up 57 per cent from the previous year. China and the United States had the highest sales volume in 2017, and Norway is the world’s leader in terms of sales share, with EVs accounting for more than 39 per cent of new sales in 2017. Nine countries, including France, the United Kingdom and Norway, have plans to phase out some or all gas-powered vehicles between 2025 and 2050.
  • Canada has seen a significant expansion in the EV market, with Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia accounting for 97% of all plug-in vehicles sold in Canada between 2013 and 2018. Between 2017 and Q3 2018, sales increased by about 80 per cent. The national EV market share was 2.2 per cent, compared to 0.9 per cent in 2017.
  • In Q3 of 2018, sales of EVs in Ontario were 5,808, up 209% over the same period in 2017, and representing 44% of all new EV sales in the country.

Investing in information

According to Young, overnight EV charging might alleviate some of the pressure on the grid, but less certain is what happens when consumers and municipalities charge their vehicles during the day when many large industrial customers are also drawing significant amounts of power.

Equally, smart charging that automatically shifts to off-peak times in response to peaks in demand could be the answer, and so could storage facilities that hold energy in reserve until it is required. These are just a few of the pilot scenarios that will undoubtedly result in new operating policies and procedures for the system operator.

Gaining traction

“We’re really grappling now with a shift in how electricity grids operate,” says Young. “Electrified transportation is big, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg, particularly in Ontario. We’ve also got to manage these new DERs being connected to the grid effectively. There are lots of moving parts right now, and the challenge is to have visibility on all of them, and to be able to predict what they will do at any given time, with a very high degree of certainty. It’s partly about being able to forecast, but mainly it’s about maintaining reliability.”

While EV sales are expected to remain flat for the next few years, when it comes to making the e-mobility shift, IESO VP of Policy, Engagement and Innovation Terry Young says that all signs suggest the transformation is well underway.

“Last month, the Toronto Transit Commission’s first battery-powered bus hit the streets, and Toyota announced that it aims to get half of its global sales from EVs by 2025, a full five years ahead of schedule,” he said, adding that BYD, China’s largest EV maker, just opened its second North American assembly plant in Newmarket. “With more competitive pricing, more powerful batteries improving driving range, and many more EV models to choose from, some of the earlier barriers to EV adoption are falling by the wayside.”

And Young says these changes are the driving force behind the IESO’s investment – through its Grid Innovation Fund – in three new research projects aimed at evaluating future EV usage models. 

Understanding the impact of EV adoption

Plugging a fleet of electric buses and school buses into local electricity grids isn’t as simple as it sounds, says Young. “There’s a need to evaluate the implications for the grid if local authorities were to charge all their vehicles at the same time. That’s why the IESO is funding a York University study on the impact of adopting electric transit on Ontario’s electricity grid. We want to understand how much extra demand is added to the grid when EVs charge and how to make the transition to electrification both efficient and reliable.

Same goes for the smart EV charging program pilot at the City of Markham’s Civic Centre, which will study how smart charging systems at workplaces can minimize the impact on the local electricity grid without limiting employees’ choice to drive electric. As workplaces investigate options for including electric chargers at their offices, they will need to consider the additional operational costs, due to demand charges, resulting from the increased electricity consumption at their office sites.

The IESO has also provided funds to evaluate the customer and system benefits of alternative pricing schemes compared to current time-of-use (TOU) plans. Tailored for EV owners, one such plan offers significantly reduced overnight electricity rates in exchange for high on-peak rates. Through sending stronger economic incentives, the pilot will investigate how charging behaviour adapts to signals that can potentially reduce peak loads.  

Getting ready for change

From Young’s perspective, the IESO’s primary role is to get out in front of the changes brought about by electrified transportation, without getting in the way of progress.