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Highway 3_300Trend toward electric vehicles is here to stay

According to the latest report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, electricity production generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions at 30 percent. Second to that are 26 percent of emissions that come directly from the transportation industry as a result of burning fossil fuel for cars, trucks, boats, trains, and planes. Over 90 percent of the fuel used for transportation is still petroleum based, which includes gasoline and diesel. A growing number of power and utility organizations around the world, from Canada to China, are stepping up to explore ways to curb the impact of this dependence and find innovative ways to address global warming.

One country taking a rapid, admirable approach is Norway. Over half of the country’s energy requirements are currently met using renewable power sources but government leaders identified new opportunities to make a positive impact. The Norwegian government recently announced plans to potentially ban the sale of all gas and diesel-powered cars by 2025, according to a new report from Dagens Næringsliv. This is one of the most aggressive timelines of its kind for such a policy that we have seen.

When consumers charge electric cars, they draw power from the national power grid so proactively moving toward total reliance on electric cars throughout Norway will cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly. As a result, according to the World Economic Forum, Norway now has the highest proportion of electric car sales when compared to all other nations.

When comparing all industry sectors of the electric vehicle (EV) market, China is the world’s leader with over 400,000 new energy vehicles sold in the past five years, including heavy-duty commercial vehicles like electric trucks and buses. Once again, incentives and subsidies from the government are helping to drive the changing paradigm in China around electric means of transportation. As a result, the electric car in China is flourishing. Sales of new-energy vehicles this year, including plug-in hybrids and completely electric models, were close to 200,000 and that’s phenomenal increase of more than 200 percent when compared to 2015.

Beyond the road: Electric vehicles’ impact on the grid

While shifting from fossil-fueled vehicles to electric-based transportation is necessary to tackle global warming, according to the MIT Technology Review, this change will have a massive impact on power grids around the world. In the U.S., plugging in an EV can be the equivalent of adding three new homes to the grid. As a result, utilities around the country (especially those in California and other communities where EV sales are highest) are racing to make upgrades and technology improvements to the grid to avoid negative impacts to service and complete power outages.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have calculated that the grid in the U.S. has enough excess capacity to support over 150 million battery-powered cars, or about 75 percent of the vehicles on the road. While power plants and transmission lines might have excess capacity, the challenge comes when utilities must distribute that power to individual neighborhoods. Electric car owners in the U.S. often install their own dedicated vehicle charging circuits which is the equivalent of adding an extra home to a grid often already supporting five to 10 houses in the neighborhood. To avoid grid problems, U.S. utilities are working together with governments and the public to monitor power demand via smart meters and identify communities most in need of power improvements. They’re also working with automakers to get consumers to notify them when they buy an EV so local power and utility companies can respond with appropriate levels of support.

ABB_300Microsoft technology supports partners’ efforts

One company working to stay at the forefront of the technological change happening in electric power is ABB. Last year, Microsoft and ABB announced the launch of ABB’s fast-charging services platform for EVs that includes Microsoft Azure cloud-based services. The new platform ensures stability, global scalability and advanced management features for ABB customers while making more advanced charging stations available for car owners.

Charge Flex is another leading project in this space, especially when it comes to its eSmart Systems that increase EV-charging capacity through smart management of demand response using the power of Azure. Using eSmart’s Connected Vehicle product suite, utilities, aggregators and commercial property owners can optimize power output in V2H, V2B and V2G environments. These integrated software solutions enable up to 25 percent increases in EV-charging capacity within a local grid through smart demand response management. This ranges from the development of prediction models for charging demand, capacity constraints and available flexibility to the utilization of big data and real-time analytics technology.

When it comes to reinventing the concept of power, Zaptec is at the forefront of creating new technology that can more safely and effectively control and distribute electronic power. Based on Azure, the company’s innovations focus on developing compact and efficient electronic transformers that not only outperform competitors but also use up to 100 times less copper and iron. The resulting capabilities are impressive; huge amounts of energy can be transferred over vast distances, creating instant electric power infrastructure almost anywhere, at the fraction of the cost, time and resources needed today.

The rapid growth of the electric vehicle market around the world presents a significant opportunity for organizations to meet the increasing needs of customers looking for ways to access power. At the same time, the escalating popularity of EVs and the increasing demand for accessible and efficient charging at home and on the road puts significant pressure on power grids. To better serve this growing population of customers, grid operators need to strategically upgrade local distribution grids by utilizing software solutions to help analyze where to best position future grid investments. In doing so they can maximize opportunities to increase revenue through lower maintenance expenses, the development of new solutions and improved scalability.

While the new rules issued by the Norwegian government have not been confirmed yet, it would not be surprising if the initiative to ban gas-powered car sales by 2025 does go through, given that Norway already has the highest percentage of electric vehicle market share of any country. We’ll be eager to watch how this unfolds and the impact on global warming in the coming years.