The North American Electricity Reliability Corporation (NERC) released its annual summer reliability report in May 2022 which warns of a heightened risk of electricity blackouts in the summer months. In this blog, we dive into how upcoming grid expectations are signaling utilities and their technology partners to explore new opportunities for collaboration
John Moura, NERC’s director of reliability assessment and performance, told media outlets that the current state of the grid is “out of sync with the underlying realities and the physics of the system.”
The report highlighted the following:
Upcoming summer power outages echo a recurring call for grids to move away from outdated energy distribution systems. Some components of grids in the US are over a century old, while 70% of transmission and distribution lines in the country are in the second half of their lifespans.
The outages in Texas last February are a prime example of how traditional power systems aren’t equipped to handle drastic and unprecedented weather changes. Temperatures below 20°F didn’t just cause spikes in demand. Grid equipment froze over and the production of natural gas dropped by almost 50%. Operator-initiated load shedding was called for in certain service areas. Combined with the collapse of grid equipment, the blackouts spread to 11 million residents across a span of three days.
Traditionally, utilities have shaped energy generation to meet demand. Today, grids are rehauling legacy systems so demand can be shaped according to available supply. 77% of utilities surveyed by the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) introduced DERs into load-forecasting processes so demand can be properly funneled into a wider energy resource mix.
What does this energy mix look like?
CNN highlights Bronzeville as an example, a neighborhood in Chicago using microgrids to prepare in the case the larger grid can’t meet summer demand. This microgrid consists of solar panels on the rooftop of a public housing complex, batteries to store solar energy, and natural gas generators. These sources connect and share power with the main grid, but can also operate independently during blackouts using the energy stored in the battery.
Grid flexibility is an immense project — but it can’t be tackled by grids alone. 90% of leading utilities leverage technology partnerships with other companies to adopt more software-friendly infrastructure.
“Digital solutions present a major opportunity for utilities to increase revenue and lower emissions,” says Eileen Waris, principal at Energize Ventures.
“As transportation electrifies, we can expect a 20 to 40 percent increase in demand for electricity in the U.S. alone. The utilities that develop leading strategies in grid flexibility and managed charging will be well-positioned to capture this demand, optimize grid flow and contribute to decarbonization.”
Here are three ways companies are partnering with utilities today.
Utilities are working with more fragmented energy sources today than ever before, making it difficult to predict overall load capacity and available options to cater to excess demand in high-risk periods for the grid, like warmer and colder seasons.
APIs allow two or more software applications to communicate with each other, giving grids a hardware-free path to communicate with IoT-connected devices that can greatly impact grid load, like electric vehicles. Technology partners are brought in to help grid operators offload the effort of building and maintaining these integrations themselves.
APIs give demand response programs granular and high-quality data directly from each vehicle, which utilities use to analyze load forecasting patterns and create digitized user experiences for customers. Businesses also leverage APIs to provide utilities with simple hardware-free access to grid modernization resources.
A 2020 survey found that consumer awareness and advocacy for local utility climate initiatives ranged from only 18 to 32 points on a 100-point scale. Software partners help utilities increase customer participation by optimizing program goals and user experiences with customer motivations.
What does it mean to tap into motivating factors for customer participation?
Research has shown that some customers engage more with demand response incentives emphasizing environmental benefits as opposed to financial benefits. Apps like Optiwatt encourage better EV charging habits by giving customers a dashboard view of insights most relevant to them, like the time they need to spend charging, the money they’ve saved, and the emissions they’ve reduced.
A simple enrollment and onboarding experience is another driver of participation. DERMS platforms like EnergyHub help utilities elevate program design through better customer enrollment. They found that lengthier sign-up processes and form fills can reduce customer participation by 46%. EnergyHub solves this pain point by automatically retrieving and maps data with customer consent for a more frictionless registration process.
In a webinar on smart charging hosted by Smartcar, we found that more than 40% of our attendees were monetizing smart charging programs while 14% had plans to do so in the near future. When asked about the biggest challenge to implementing a smart charging program, integrating with electric vehicles came out on top.
A growing number of EVs on the road signifies a growing source of energy that can influence grid loads, especially during periods of higher outage risks. But utilizing Level 2 chargers to coordinate EV communication isn’t accessible for every vehicle owner and utility territory.
Vehicle telematics enables utilities and energy businesses to develop vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, which can be implemented in a few different ways:
Grid modernization efforts are relatively new and still ever-growing, so programs — which are often subject to regulatory hurdles and lengthier stakeholder alignment processes — need the agility to consistently iterate on integration quality, grid efficiency, and customer impact. If you’re partnering with utilities for grid modernization efforts and demand response programs and services, here are a few lessons we’ve learned:
Show your utility partners how you can provide them the flexibility to expand the scope of their demand response programs. For example, EV integrations are labor-intensive, with one vehicle brand alone requiring up to three engineers to develop a reliable integration. Utilities benefit more from partnering with businesses that can provide them with a ready-built integration architecture that can be adapted to program needs. This demand contributed to a 70% increase in venture capital funding last year for startups focused on vehicle-to-grid power.
35% of utilities in a PWC survey cited conflicting priorities as a primary challenge for grid modernization efforts. Your goal as a partner is to help them tackle high-impact projects that would otherwise be sitting on the backburner. The growth of the API landscape helps energy and utility programs bring together the knowledge of software developers, equipment manufacturers, customer engagement leaders, and clean energy experts. Prove to your partners how your core competencies can streamline operational capability, win the buy-in of stakeholders and communities, and go to market faster with lower overhead costs.
Cybersecurity threats to power systems and infrastructure are a major point of concern for utilities. Obtaining customer data without consent, whether for active demand response or passive load analysis, heightens the vulnerability of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. Show your partners what measures you’ve put in place to retrieve connected car data safely from residents and vehicle owners in a utility territory, like consent management flows, API token management processes, and compliance certifications.
To learn how Smartcar helps utility partners, download our energy and utilities whitepaper to see how you can use connected car APIs to: