October 29, 2019 Read More →

How electric vehicles could boost transition to renewables

E&E News:

Consumers Energy CEO Patti Poppe has a visual of where electric vehicles fit into the utility’s broader long-range strategy.

On a whiteboard, she draws a straight line that gives way to a few big spikes that represent hot summer days when air conditioners are blowing and electricity demand peaks across the utility’s service area, which spans much of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

“We have this super-duper summer peak, and it’s literally a couple of hours a year,” she said in an interview with E&E News earlier this month. “It doubles our demand. The rest of the time we have almost double the capacity required across the entire grid.”

For utility CEOs like Poppe, the goal is to flatten those peaks in demand, or “load,” into rolling hills or, ideally, something closer to a flat line. Their ability to do so has big consequences for pocketbooks and the climate, because fossil fuels supply much of the peak power during those few critical hours.

Poppe, who spent 15 years at General Motors before moving to the utility business, sees EVs as an ally in that quest to flatten out electricity demand.

Reductions in energy use and programs that compensate customers for reducing energy use at critical times can help the utility build natural gas plants. And demand from EVs during evenings allows the utility to better use existing power plants and transmission lines — assets that customers pay for regardless of how much use they get.

The end result can be lower electric rates and a reduction in tailpipe emissions.

Michigan regulators in June approved a long-range plan that calls for Consumers Energy to add more than 6 gigawatts of new solar over the next 20 years, including 1.2 GW by 2021, as it continues to phase out coal use (Energywire, June 10).

More: How EVs could thwart fossil fuels, boost renewables

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