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Electrification: An Opportunity for the 4Ge Power Grid

Our last article discussed changes to the electric energy system that electric utilities would be wise to embrace in the face of climate change. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at electrification, a key climate solution that will lead to a sharp increase in the amount of electric energy consumed by homes, businesses, and other buildings.

Within the next decade, residences, businesses, schools, industrial centers, etc., will electrify many forms of energy usage. Buildings will convert to all-electric appliances and gas heat will be replaced with electric heat. Individuals and businesses will convert personal vehicles and vehicle fleets from combustion engine powered to electric vehicles (EVs).

The electrification of residences and businesses will result in a greater ability to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals only if this transition coincides with the transition to renewable energy sources and distributed energy storage. We’ll address distributed renewables and energy storage in a future post. For now, let’s look at the impacts and opportunities of full electrification on electric utilities and the electric energy grid.

Electrification Requires New Energy Facilities

In our previous post Electrify Homes to Mitigate Climate Change, we shared a few approaches to electrifying homes that would also be applicable to businesses and other buildings. All-electric buildings will no longer be reliant on natural gas, fuel oil and propane to provide power and heat. Heat pumps will replace gas furnaces; newer electric appliances will be more efficient than older electric appliances.

To meet the increase in demand for electric energy, electric utilities will need to rethink the way they build facilities to supply energy to residential neighborhoods, business parks, industrial complexes, and school campuses.

Additional facilities will be needed to supply energy to new and retrofitted trucking terminals, bus garages, delivery warehouses, and more. These facilities will include renewable energy generating centers, expanded distributed renewables, and new electric energy warehouses that include energy storage.

All-Electric Buildings Increase Electric Energy Demand

All-electric buildings will create challenges and opportunities for electric utilities. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how much electrification will increase electric energy demand, and the time at which that energy is in demand, by examining three individual residences.

The following three graphs show kilowatt hour (KWH) consumption for three similar residences with a few key differences: one home has gas heat, the second has electric heat, and the third has electric heat and an EV. Note that the home with an EV always has higher demand overnight; this is due to the assumption that EV charging will be scheduled to occur overnight.

Figure 1 shows the August hourly energy consumption of each of these three homes. During peak load hours between 4:00 and 6:00 pm, energy consumption is higher in all three homes, especially in the two all-electric homes where energy consumption reaches about 8 KWH.

Figure 1 shows the August hourly energy consumption of three similar homes: one with gas heat, a second with electric heat, and a third with electric heat and an EV.

Figure 2 shows the April hourly energy consumption of the same three homes. Energy consumption is generally lower during April due to more temperate weather, resulting in less demand for heat or air conditioning. Even at peak load periods, energy demand is not expected to exceed 6 KWH in both the home with electric heat and that with an EV.

Figure 2 shows the April hourly energy consumption of the same three homes.

Figure 3 shows the January hourly energy consumption of each of the same three homes. Note that KWH consumption is like that experienced in August, with the exception of the home with gas heat. In January, this home uses much less electric energy than in August.

Figure 3 shows the January hourly energy consumption of the same three homes.

Homes with gas heat use significantly less electric energy than their all-electric counterparts. However, to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, homes and other buildings must move away from all natural gas consumption as soon as possible. A home with gas heat was used in this example as a benchmark, and is not recommended despite reducing electric load.

Small-Scale Data Informs the Bigger Picture

Now consider a neighborhood with 10,000 residences in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. This neighborhood requires 46,000 KW of electric energy during a few peak load days in August. When an additional 2,000 new, all-electric homes are built, August peak load increases to 62,000 KW. A 20% increase in new homes results in a 35% increase in electric energy demand during August.

The same neighborhood requires just 24,000 KW of electric energy during peak load days in April. With the addition of 2,000 all-electric homes, April peak load increases to 35,000 KW. A 20% increase in homes results in a 45% increase in electric energy demand during April. Demand in April, however, is much lower than in August.

Next, consider the same neighborhood during peak load days in January: it requires 35,000 KW of electric energy. With 2,000 new, all-electric residences, January peak load increases to 51,000 KW. A 20% increase in residences results in a 46% increase in electric energy demand during January. However, January demand still remains lower than in August.

Historically, this neighborhood required much less electric energy overnight than during peak load periods. However, if all 2,000 new residences also have one EV per home, and EV charging is scheduled for overnight, nighttime load will increase substantially.

Electric Vehicles: Opportunities for Rapid Charging Stations

Increased EVs on the road creates the opportunity for electric utilities to install rapid charging stations in parking lots and parking garages in high-traffic areas. Though this increases electric energy demand, it is also an increased revenue source. Additionally, new and retrofitted homes that are electric-ready will need EV charging stations, likely located in residential garages.

Prescient recommends that EVs be primarily charged overnight when overall electric energy demand is at its lowest. This will reduce the potential strain on the power grid during peak load periods. Slow and rapid charging could be scheduled using an automated system, allowing for minimal oversight.

During primary charging hours, all-electric vehicle fleets will require significant energy. A large trucking terminal or a bus garage with rapid charging stations for 50 trucks or buses will require 2000 KVA service. Figure 4 shows hourly energy consumption at garages for electric buses used for public transit.

Figure 4 shows hourly energy consumption at electric bus garages used for public transit.

Of course, some charging will need to occur during the day as transit buses are in continual use. Primarily, however, rapid charging will occur during non-peak load hours.

Figure 5 shows hourly energy consumption at garages for electric school buses. Like transit bus charging, school buses would primarily use the rapid charging function during non-peak load hours. School buses would likely need to be charged for fewer hours per day than transit buses.

Figure 5 shows hourly energy consumption at electric school bus garages.

Innovation Leaders Embrace Change

Electrification presents challenges and opportunities to electric utilities. Those utilities that are innovation leaders will see each challenge as an opportunity itself, and embrace the many changes that electrification brings. Join us next time as we explore the opportunities associated with increased energy efficiency, distributed energy generation and storage, and so much more.

Do you have questions or ideas for our upcoming articles? Contact us and share your thoughts.

This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor, Alyssa Sleva-Horine.

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