Understanding EVs – why charging trends and behavior are so critical to our use of electrified transportation

We recently sat down with Ed Gray, PSE&G’s Director of Transmission & Distribution Energy, Electric & Gas Asset Strategy, about PSEG’s take on the “Utility of the Future” that supports more renewable energy and electric vehicles while providing greater energy equity.

TechUnited and PSEG are joining forces on the 2021 TechUnited:BetterPlanet Challenge. It will provide startups developing innovative solutions to accelerate the electrification of transportation with to press, mentorship, and a $50,000 cash prize to the winner. This interview shared insight into the current challenges, plans, and efforts PSEG is making toward a clean energy future and how the tech community can lean in.

Ed’s work includes overseeing the reliability of PSE&G’s electric system, which includes developing solutions to reduce service interruptions and planning to meet future needs. Essentially, he’s making sure customers’ lights stay on, now and in the future, as the energy sector evolves.

TechUnited: What is the utility of the future?

Ed Gray: Our vision, which we call Powering Progress, is to help customers use less energy, ensure the energy they do use is cleaner and that it’s delivered with greater reliability than ever.

The future utility will increasingly use technology to improve the customers’ experience and modernize the grid to accommodate the changes in how electricity is generated and consumed. The electric system’s reliability will be increasingly important, especially in residential areas, with more people working from home and charging electric vehicles.

As we shift to more renewable and clean energy sources, those resources must be integrated into the system. This will dramatically increase the complexity of the system. Most new generation sources like solar and wind are intermittent and cannot be managed like a traditional power plant. The rise of renewables and cleaner resources means that utilities will be managing power produced by thousands of sources instead of 15 to 20 large generation sources. That will require a smarter network that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to manage the grid and give customers more choices and information to understand their energy needs.

My role is to make sure PSE&G’s network can accommodate these changes. Electric vehicles are one example. We have to plan for a surge in EV use during the next 10 years, with most people charging at home and at night. How can we make sure the grid is ready for that? What investments are needed to be made in our system to accommodate that?

TechUnited: What are some of the changes you foresee?

Ed Gray: Large-scale EV use is one reason we are increasingly focused on “the last mile,” the segment of our system that connects to the individual dwelling. Traditionally, the level of reliability we bake into our networks in commercial centers – places like downtown Newark, New Brunswick or Camden – is much greater than in residential neighborhoods. As we look at the next decade, we need to improve the reliability down to the individual home level. The home has become the office, the schoolroom and, if people have EVs, it’s their “fueling” station.

PSE&G is analyzing how EV charging affects the grid. The utility has piloted EV charging programs for many years. In addition to the environmental benefits, those programs gave us insights into the demands EV charging put on the system. We are rolling out a program that helps build out the state’s charging infrastructure, particularly in underserved markets. Utilities like PSE&G are uniquely positioned to provide universal access. It’s a central element of our programs, including energy efficiency and solar development. In the case of EV charging, our program emphasizes “make-ready work,” preparing homes, apartment buildings, publicly accessible parking lots and other sites for EV charging.

TechUnited: What are the key challenges posed by the broad adoption of EVs?

Ed Gray: Understanding and anticipating charging behavior is a primary issue. Customers don’t need to tell their utility that they bought an EV, and we don’t think that should be required. PSE&G wants to understand how charging impacts the infrastructure. Most people want to charge their car as quickly as possible. The challenge is, the faster the charge, the greater the demand on the system. Fast charging can double the amount of electricity a home uses. We need to understand how and when people will charge and the demands that will result, so we can maintain reliability and support this critical path to reduced emissions and cleaner transportation.

TechUnited: How can startups get involved?

Ed Gray: Today, there are fewer than 30,000 EVs in PSE&G’s service territory. We project more than half a million by 2030, making it critical that the utility understands the infrastructure needed to support reliable charging at scale. That’s a game-changer that will create opportunities for entrepreneurs. Understanding charging behavior is both essential and largely uncharted territory that requires new and innovative approaches. PSE&G would be very interested in a solution that would help support our thousands of circuits.

If you’re working on a solution that helps analyze data, understand trends, support charging or reliability for EVs, please apply today to the TechUnited: BetterPlanet Challenge.

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