Electric vehicle efforts could point path to better electric grid for D.C. residents

By Ben Delman on August 30, 2017

Solar is one of the many pieces of technology that provide an opportunity to transform our electricity system so that it benefits everyone. Electric vehicles (EVs) are another. Several efforts are underway in the District to better integrate EVs into our electricity system. If done correctly, this could save all District residents money while reducing smog pollution.

The majority of electric vehicle charging takes place during the late afternoon as commuters return home. This coincides with times of peak demand during hot summer days. As the market for electric vehicles is expected to boom, this presents a challenge and an opportunity for utilities to manage this spike in demand. In response, Pepco has asked the D.C. Public Service Commission (PSC) to establish a special lower electric rate for EV owners who charge their vehicles during off peak hours. This is known in the electric industry as time-of-use (TOU) pricing. This effort has important implications for creating a clean, reliable electric grid that benefits all D.C. residents. Unfortunately, Pepco’s proposal currently excludes solar homeowners from the TOU pricing. DC SUN is intervening at the PSC to try to get solar homeowners included in the TOU pilot.

As a community, we need to explore the barriers to EV deployment and sharpen our understanding of the type of incentives that are needed to aid the transition. We also need a strategy for trucks, taxis, and buses. Transitioning government owned and operated fleets to all electric could have substantial impacts, not only in terms of emissions reductions, but for setting an example for other major cities around the country.

The D.C. Council needs to closely monitor Pepco’s recent proposal to build EV charging infrastructure, including their proposal to develop a time of use (TOU) tariff for electric vehicles. These types of innovative proposals may be critical to moving D.C. on a path toward sustainability.

Concurrently, the D.C. Council is considering legislation, the Electric Vehicle Public Infrastructures Expansion Act of 2017, to develop a pilot program for electric vehicles. The program would facilitate the installation of 50 Level II car chargers for electric vehicle customers and offer the TOU rate for up to 500 residential customers. It would also facilitate the installation of 10 Level II chargers at multi-family buildings with garage parking and install four Fast Chargers chargers around the District for public use. Level II chargers can fully power an EV in 2-4 hours. The Fast Chargers can ‘fill your tank’ in about 30 minutes.

Similarly, the DC Public Service Commission initiated the proceeding known as Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability (MEDSIS). The Council may need to legislate guideposts, or deadlines to move the PSC off the dime. While the PSC started off with laudable goals to grapple with these thorny and critical issues they seemed to have gotten bogged down and have failed to establish either clear objectives or a clear process for moving the proceeding. Electric vehicles, storage, solar, and demand management must work together. Let’s start with a few high speed charging stations to test customer use and technology, but lets not stop there.

If these efforts are implemented in a holistic fashion and in combination with visionary rules and incentive structures, it could help us deliver an energy system that keeps more of D.C. residents’ hard-earned dollars here at home. It could be a system that is much more resilient to storms and disruptions of any kind, keeping our elderly and infirmed safe in an outage. It can also be a system—that while improving energy quality rationalizes our usage so that we consume when energy is cheap and add our own energy to the grid when energy is expensive. This, if done correctly has the potential to lower costs for all D.C. ratepayers and significantly lower-total energy use.

Click here to urge the Public Serve Commission to move forward with its MEDSIS proceeding.