Widespread Installation of Direct Current Fast Chargers will Place a Dangerous Strain on the Utility Grid

by | Feb 6, 2023 | About

Direct Current Fast Chargers (DCFC), refers to a particular method of electric vehicle (EV) charging that has the ability to charge vehicles at incredibly high speeds and thus, can serve a far greater volume of drivers on any given day. However, a single DCFC can use more energy in a 15-minute timespan, than a typical charging site typically uses throughout the course of an entire day.

In order to support EV adoption, we must provide drivers with the easiest vehicle charging solutions along with a high volume of chargers to mitigate the fear associated with range anxiety. The utility knows this and it’s clear that we need to come up with a solution to support this newfound stress that is levied on the grid.

The utility grid is one of the largest machines in the world. Over the last 100 years, the way we’ve interfaced with the grid has changed tremendously, with a particularly massive shift happening in the last decade, as society began to embrace EV technologies.

EV production is speeding up. The second half of this decade is poised to bring about the next gargantuan shift for the grid: the need to support massive, unexpected energy loads from DCFC, to support the ever-expanding, global adoption of EVs.

So, how does it work? What does the grid really do? Understanding its purpose and function is essential to unlocking the future of EVs.

When discussing the utility grid, there are two major components to its workload: energy generation and energy transmission/distribution.

  • Energy Generation (kWh): this is how we create energy, and global generation can be increased on an as-needed basis. In fact, we have the ability to easily scale up more generation, to meet the electrical needs of the modern, advancing society.
  • Energy Transmission/Distribution (kW): Once energy is generated, we use the grid to actually take it from that initial generation, to end use via transmission lines. The energy from the actual grid (the wires and transformers), which can handle the most energy, is brought to your local neighborhood, whose grid infrastructure can’t handle quite as much. From there, the energy is taken to the even weaker infrastructure outside your home, to power your daily electrical needs.

If energy generation is such an adaptable element of the grid, why can’t it advance to a level that can support the mass takeover of DCFC sites?
Just looking at the US, alone, it is estimated that about 140,000 public DCFC sites will be needed to support the volume of electric vehicles that are projected to be on the road in the year 2030. That’s a volume that, at its current strength, our grid is not equipped to handle.
The key issue is, when DCFC is installed onto an EV charging site, it causes a significant impact on both energy generation and distribution. Therein lies the central problem: while, yes, we can generate the volume of energy needed to support the expansion of DCFC installations, we do not, however, have the capacity to properly distribute all that energy to where it’s needed.
Fortunately, smart energy storage solutions can relieve both the generation and distribution difficulties that come with DCFC adoption. This, of course, is where Sparkion enters the scene:
Generation: (kWh)

  • The Problem: As mentioned earlier, the grid certainly has the ability to create enough energy, without an issue, to support the demands needed by EVs. However, the local utility needs to ensure that the right amount of energy is produced at the right times. Seeing as energy is a just-in-time production resource, there is a paramount need to precisely forecast the necessary energy volume to maintain consistent delivery. But when a DCFC site is introduced, the grid is suddenly being asked to produce colossal amounts of kWh, in a very short period of time, which creates a volatile load profile – the worst thing for a utility to see. In addition to all that, with public corridor charging, the grid also sees a largely unpredictable smattering of charging sessions. To put it simply: there is just no way to know exactly when a customer will pull in for a public charging session, nor will there likely ever be.
  • The Solution: Sparkion solves the energy generation issue in two key ways:
    • Flattening the Curve: With Sparkion’s energy storage system (ESS) on-site, a battery can be charged linearly (i.e. with minimal stress put onto the grid), overnight. From there, that energy can be released during volatile DCFC charging events. This leads to a general flattening (i.e. less volatile) of the load profile and thus, puts less overall stress on the generation requirements from the grid.
    • Predictive AI: The second problem is trying to predict when, throughout a given day, the site will use various loads. With the help of Sparkion’s Peak Predictor AI, machine learning is leveraged to create probability-based predictions as to how many kWh the site will use throughout each 15-minute interval during the day. This intelligence ensures that the optimal amount of energy is kept in the ESS, to maximize its cycles each day.

Distribution: (kW)

  • The Problem: With DCFC onsite, the smallest capacity part of the grid (the bottom of the funnel) is being asked to essentially do the capacity workload of the substation. It’s likely that a site’s existing grid infrastructure doesn’t even have the ability to handle the capacity being installed.
  • The Solution: With Sparkion ESS, a site can actually add capacity to a charger, even if the site can’t support the amount of power the charger is asking for. It’s able to do this through an open charge point protocol (OCPP) command that communicates the capacity an EV is asking for, via the charger, and how much the charger can deliver, through a combination of the ESS and the grid. The ESS is able to maximize the amount of grid energy and then add even more energy from the ESS that’s on site. Essentially, the sum of the ESS, kWh and the site’s grid capacity can be taken and efficiently expand the site’s capacity to meet whatever charging needs are required.

So, is the potential, impending mass adoption of DCFC technology at EV charging stations around the nation and globe going to spell devastating trouble for our precious utility grid? It very likely could and would, if you neglect to employ the necessary energy storage solutions needed to ease the dual pressure DCFC puts on society’s most important machine.