The Role that Electric Vehicles Play in the Development of Smart Cities

Rose Begonia

The rapid global growth of electric vehicles is undeniable. The International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook 2020 reported that there were approximately 7.2 million electric cars on the world’s roads in 2019. Also, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, electric car sales are expected to rise to 54 million by 2040, making up 58 percent of all passenger car sales worldwide. With electric cars increasingly coming close to matching internal-combustion cars in purchase price (and already cost less to operate as electricity is cheaper than gasoline or diesel fuel), this exponential growth in sales can be rightly expected.

Additionally, ride sharing services are also planning major shifts to EVs. In June, Lyft pledged for all vehicles on its platform to be electric by 2030. And in early September, Uber announced $800 million to accelerate its transition to electric cars, aiming for 100 percent of drives to be electric by 2040.

Beyond passenger cars, there’s progress in the electrification of commercial vehicles happening as well. According to a report by Wood Mackenzie, commercial EV sales are expected to top 5.5 million a year by 2040.

With so many electric vehicles set to be on the road in the next few decades, here is how this influx will affect the development of smart cities.

Increased Demand for Power

More and more utilities are adopting advanced technologies and systems, like IoT and 5G, to enhance power generation and management. The goal is to ensure that homes, businesses, and buildings have reliable access to power, with very little downtime. However, the addition of EVs and the power required to charge them comes with a greatly increased demand in electricity.

Since the modern electric vehicle era, grid operators have warned of an overwhelm in grid distribution systems. Although this warning has yet to materialize, the massive rise in EVs that is set to come will mean that utilities will need to generate and deliver much more electricity in areas that already experience high demand.

While the power industry has made great strides to develop managed charging initiatives to handle EV load demands on the grid, utilities still have a long way to go. Stakeholders have not converged around a common managed charging open protocol, or set of protocols, that could help reduce costs, avoid stranded assets and streamline the implementation of aggregation programs. Additionally, utilities will need to develop ways to send communication signals between devices and vehicles that are inexpensive, reliable, and user-friendly.

The Potential for EVs to Optimize the Grid

Although the power demand of EVs is high, these vehicles do also have the potential to protect the grid, rather than be a liability on it. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) systems, which allow EVs to communicate with the power grid to sell demand response services, hold tremendous potential for helping to optimize the grid.

Government agencies around the world are funding multibillion-dollar programs in order to drive development of V2G systems. The US and Japan, for instance, are funding demonstrations of the most advanced form of vehicle grid integration—the type that uses bidirectional chargers. These solutions enable EVs to push power back into the grid, which amplifies the optimization benefits and opens up new opportunities, like powering off-grid electronic equipment or homes during outages.

As smart cities seek ways to improve their transportation systems, V2G solutions should be a major consideration. Cities are well-positioned to utilize municipal fleets in V2G pilots which can help industry stakeholders identify and overcome regulatory barriers and standardize solutions. Investments in V2G systems would also help improve grid operators’ ability to manage a future distribution network heavily reliant on intermittent renewables and demand side management.

To prepare for the massive rise in the use of electric vehicles among residents, businesses, and government organizations, smart cities must pursue innovation and make the necessary preparations to accommodate EVs now. By enhancing managed charging programs and implementing V2G systems, smart cities will be able to not just effectively manage the coming influx of EVs, but also reap the energy benefits that these vehicles can offer.

Rose Begonia

Rose Begonia

Rose is a seasoned PR executive with over a decade of experience helping businesses, from growing startups to well-established organizations, grow their reputations and gain increased recognition both in the press and amongst their customers.

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