Now is the time for the IOUs and Regulatory Bodies to step up and meet the EV manufacturers to help California mitigate the effects of wildfires and earthquakes (Part 5)

The Energy Resilient Vehicle

This is the 5th of a series of blogs that describe the concept of the Energy Resilient Vehicle (ERV). In previous posts I have explained how the car manufacturers must step up to the table and help California deal with the wildfire and natural disaster threats through producing so-called ERVs.

  1. Blog #1: Introduction to the Energy Resilience Vehicle
  2. Blog #2: The story of GHG emission and California
  3. Blog #3: Why the car manufacturers should step up to help CA
  4. Blog #4: California 2030 – A scenario

This article describes what the IOUs (Investor Owned Utilities) and the regulatory bodies can do to step up and together with the EV manufacturers meet the challenge of making the California electric grid more resilient.

1) A hypothetical PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutdown) scenario

Mrs. and Mr. Jones hear on the TV in October 2019 that there may be a proactive power shutoff the next day that may affect the area where they live in their house. The PSPS – PG&E explains – may be necessary because of dry hot weather, strong winds and vegetation that is bone dry from a scorching summer and to avoid that the electric grid ignites wildfires, which have been the case in previous years. The next day afternoon the Jones receives a call from PG&E saying that their area actually will be cut off from power starting at 8pm and that the power outage may last up to 5 days!

The next days turns into a nightmare for the Jones. After the first 24 hours the food in the fridge has to be discarded. The same goes for the food in the freezer after 48 hours. Since there is no power to their house and the telephone system is down as is the cell towers Mr. Jones cannot work from home as he normally does and has to commute to his work 4 driving hours away (assuming that his work place has power). Since he does not want to spend up to 8 hours driving to and from work he decides to book into a hotel close to his work place.

After a week without power the power returns and the Jones decides to take stock of the costs. The food that was discarded amounts to $500. The hotel costs and meals outside the home to another $400. So the total cost is in the neighborhood of $900 for this PSPS event, not to mention the discomfort of being without communication and Internet services, no light and heat and security system not working since battery is empty.

Lets use this hypotechical example to estimate the aggregated costs to the California population living in the PG&E area just focusing on the discarded food cost:

Monetary costs alone: 800,000 households affected @ $500 = 800,000 * 500 = $400 million!

And what about the people relying on grid power for their medical equipment and the old folks homes, and the lost work income….. And many of these people are economically disadvantaged making the burden even more disproportional.

2) Some are more equal than others in a PSPS

However, not everybody are affected by the power outage in the same way. Hospitals use their Automatic Transfer Switches (ATS) to switch to backup diesel/gas generators (required by CA law), cell towers have battery backup power to last 24-48 hours, large computer centers switches to backup power (UPS) and large organizations such as university campuses can disconnect from the electric grid and operate in island mode. This is widely known as forming their own island microgrids.

Now if hospitals, cell towers, computer centers large U campuses can “microgrid”, why can residential customers and small businesses not do the same? If they had an ERV it could provide power from its battery to provide emergency power to essential functions in the house.

3) The need for microgrids – safe, flexible and easy to create/manage

In 1987 the telecommunication network was changed forever with the Final Modified Judgement that set the scene for competition in the market place. One important influence was a report by Peter Huber with the title “The Geodesic Network”. One statement summed his position up: “Networking is contagious”. The development of the Internet certainly has proved that he was right.

In the same way distributed microgrids may revolutionize the electric grid with the emergence of the “prosumer”, who produces and consumes his/her own generated electricity without the need for a centralized electric grid. However, as simple as it sounds it is facing the dilemma: if more and more households and business goes “microgrid” who will pay for the public network? (Analogy to the debate of private schools versus public schools). It would also challenge the economic interests of the IOUs, which have sunk trillions of dollars into their distribution grids.

However, if allowing safe “microgridding” only in case of a PSPS event and if the IOU’s could be in control of the disconnect and reconnect of the customer to ensure safe disconnect, operation in island mode and safe reconnect, it would be difficult to argue against such a solution. All the consumer would need would be an ERV (and/or PV panels and/or a separate battery).

A major issue for microgrids is that rules prohibit private-utility customers from selling electricity “over the fence” — on the public market — because they are not regulated by the state.

The ability to do so would make the economics far more feasible for neighborhoods, community groups and private customers interested in building microgrids, especially in rural areas, as a backup to the increasingly unreliable utility-provided electricity. One compromise would be to allow some private microgrid electricity sales only during blackouts, a step other states have taken.

ERV as part of a home microgrid (Source: Nissan)
Even a Tesla Cybertruck may be used as an ERV

4) Flexible certification of ERVs (on-board and off-board chargers)

As the number of distributed energy resources incl. ERVs grows it is necessary to define rules of how they can be added safely to the grid and improve the reliance and stability of the grid. These grid rules are set by national US bodies and tested by national recognized labs (NRTL) and administered by the local utilities. They are codified in rule sets known as UL 1741 SA and Rule 21 (California) to describe how power exporting entities (wind turbines, solar panels, batteries) must react in case of voltage or frequency anomalities.

UL 1741 SA is a standard for inverters, converters, controllers and interconnection system equipment for use with distributed energy resources, in essence, the test standard by which inverters are certified for interconnection to the grid, with particular respect to: grid voltage and grid frequency.

5) Streamlined and easier site interconnection approvals

An important issue to address is how to speed up and streamline the site Interconnection approval process. In order to connect to the electric grid any site that is capable of exporting power to the grid (or even to a grid connected building) must adhere to strict approval processes administered by the IOUs.

The regulatory bodies and the IOUs must continuously improve, streamline and shorten this process to make it easier to get approvals.

The figure below shows the taxonomy of the certification:

Interconnection – Taxonomy

Rule 21 – a quote from the CPUC: “Electric Rule 21 is a tariff that describes the interconnection, operating and metering requirements for generation facilities to be connected to a utility’s distribution system, over which the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has jurisdiction.”

If the inverter is located in the EVSE (off-board) it is straight forward – the car manufacturer can rely on the inverter in the EVSE is UL 1741 SA certified. However, if the inverter is located in the EV (on-board) and the EV delivers AC power back to the EVSE, then we enter a domain where the EV manufacturers will have to go through a UL 1741 product certification in order to sell their ERVs in California. This UL certification will most likely not be acceptable to the EV manufacturers since they already have their own equivalent safety industry standards like J3072 that addresses mostly the same safety issues as UL 1741 and is based on the same international standard IEEE 1547. This issue still needs to be resolved with priority.

However, in the case of the single meter / customer premises microgrid, everything is “inside the fence” like it is at a datacenter or generator backed site. 

Generators and other power sources “inside the fence” used for backup / islanded (non-parallel) operation are not ever electrically connected to the utility’s distribution system, and therefore aren’t subject to the interconnection certification & listing standards (UL 1741) and utility interconnection rules (21 in CA). This means that an ERV could be used to power a microgrid in a PSPS emergency without that added cost & complexity.  

Note: The state of Delaware has passed a Grid Integrated Vehicle (GIV) law in 2019 to make SAE J3072 qualify for interconnection and net metering! CA could choose to follow the same route or at least allow the car manufacturers to choose their own industry accepted 3rd party organization to test and certify.

If the regulatory bodies do not act fast the people will come up with their own solutions which may jeopardize the safety and even lead to new fire hazards in case of using gas powered generators. As an example from the CA city of Arcata have demonstrated: “When the power went out those with generators started them, creating fire risks of their own. On Arcata’s central square, where the bead shops, cannabis oil vendors and vintage clothing stores attract a steady flow of tourists, owners of the Big Blue Cafe turned on their generator in the minutes after the power went out for the second time in October. A few hours later, the popular diner was in flames, the generator later found to have vibrated across the floor to a wall, where the hot exhaust sparked the fire. The restaurant and its two neighbors are still closed” (source: Washington Post).

7) International standards

In order to reduce the cost of making ERVs happen we would need international standards. Fortunately they are on their way. The most prominent is the IEC 15118-20 standard expected to be released end 2020. It covers the communication interface between the EV and the EVSE. It supports CCS (Combined Charging System – AC as well as DC) and support bi-directional power flow.

The interface between the EVSE and the backend is under work in the standard bodies and known under the name IEC 63110 (Protocol for Management of Electric Vehicles charging and discharging infrastructures) and is expected to be released late 2020.

8) Example of a CA microgrid – Blue Lake Rancheria

The following is an excerpt from a Washington Post article:

“BLUE LAKE, Calif. — After months of wildfires, an essential question in a warming, windy California is this: How does the state keep the lights on? A tiny Native American tribe, settled here in the Mad River Valley, has an answer: Build your own utility.

The Blue Lake Rancheria tribe has constructed a microgrid on its 100-acre reservation, a complex of solar panels, storage batteries and distribution lines that operates as part of the broader utility network or completely independent of it. It is a state-of-the-art system — and an indicator of what might be in California’s future.

In early October, Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to more than 2 million people across Northern California, including all those who live here in rural Humboldt County, where redwood forests fringe the wild edge of the continent. The shut-off aimed to reduce the risk of wildfire, and as the region sat in darkness, the tribe’s multimillion-dollar investment in its power system glowed.

Responding to public needs, the tribe transformed a hotel conference room into a newsroom so the local paper could publish. It used hotel guest rooms to take in eight critically ill patients from the county’s Health and Human Services Department. The reservation’s gas station and mini mart were among the only ones open, drawing a nearly mile-long line of cars.

The Blue Lake Rancheria Casino
The Blue Lake Rancheria gas station and mini mart

The Blue Lake Rancheria served more than 10,000 people during the day-long outage, by some estimates, roughly 8 percent of Humboldt’s population. And for a government that had largely ignored the tribe for more than a century, the tribe suddenly became a vital part of its emergency response.

“The irony was not lost on us,” said Jason Ramos, a member of the tribal council who ran emergency operations during the blackout. “When these power cuts started, we looked like geniuses for what we had done. But in truth, we didn’t really see them coming when we made our decision.”

California, a hive of rapid private-sector innovation, is adjusting slowly to the accelerating changes in its climate. The sharp transition between heavy rains and hot, windy weather has primed the landscape for wildfires, which have burned larger and deadlier in recent years than at any time in history.

After an autumn of power cuts and economic losses, the reliability of California’s electricity grid and of its three largest investor-owned utilities is among the most pressing public policy issues facing Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). The state lags behind some on the East Coast, where Tropical Storm Irene swamped towns in 2011, causing blackouts and a rethinking of how to strengthen a vulnerable electrical grid.”

9) California is not the only place suffering from wildfires

As this article is written Australia is having its worst wildfires in history. More than 200 wildfires continue to rip through the nation’s eastern states, prompting the largest peacetime evacuation in the country’s history. At least 19 people are dead and 28 more are missing after hundreds of fires scorched more than 12.35 million acres of land, destroying at least 1,400 homes in three states. All these wildfires are of course not ignited by the electric grid, however the effect is still that many million people is without electric power for extended period of time.

And Australia is not alone. Indonesia experienced their worst fire season and their Forestry and Environment Ministry, has estimated that by the end of September 2019 a total of 2.12 million acres had been burned.

Australia is burning
Worst wildfires in decades in Australia

10) Reducing the risks to/from the electric grid – example Denmark

20 years ago, a Category 4 hurricane swept over Denmark and brought death and destruction with it. Seven people were killed and 800 injured. The electricity grid was also severely hit on December 3, 1999. The wild hurricane toppled high voltage lines and created the most extensive power cuts in recent times. This was followed by a category 3 hurricane that struck Denmark in 2005 and caused disruptions however not as severe as in 1999.

1999 Category 4 hurricane strikes Denmark
Category 4 hurricane in 1999

As a result of these events Denmark decided to bury most of the distribution grid under ground at large costs. This activity was largely completed this year. Since the hurricanes in 1999 og 2005 Denmark has not experienced large power outages and Danish families and businesses have received electric power 99.99 percent of the time.

California must consider going the same route and bury the most vulnerable distribution grid sectors under ground even if this will be quite expense and take time.

11) Summary

The technology is here today to make ERVs and allow for flexible “microgridding” in case of PSPS events to make the California grid more resilient. We don’t even need expensive solutions such as solar panels and wall batteries. It is now up to the regulation to show same flexibility and innovation and move into the modern area of supporting e-mobility to allow the technology to help California cope with the existential threat of seasonal wildfires expected to increase in strength and frequency as a result of the global climate change.

By 2030 we will have a 5 million EVs on the roads in California and if we are not moving fast enough on the regulation they will pose a big problem for the grid instead of being a part of the solution to move into the the California grid into the future just as we did with the transition from the centralized telephone network to the distributed Internet.

In summary the state of California regulatory bodies and the IOUs should accelerate the rule makings, streamline processes and lower the barriers to:

  1. Enable microgrids (safe, flexible, economically) in case of power emergencies – for consumers as well as for business
  2. Device interconnection certification flexibility meeting car manufactures midway (Rule 21, UL vs SAE)
  3. Site interconnection administration and ease of approval
  4. Better grid maintenance and bury underground for most vulnerable part of the grid

The next article will look at how to incentivize the EV manufacturers to introduce Energy Resilient Vehicles in California.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *