As electric vehicle adoption accelerates at an exponential rate, how can utilities maximize grid benefits, customer satisfaction and revenue? Scaling readiness for transportation electrification requires an intelligent, analytics-driven strategy.

In the third episode of Bidgely’s 2022 Engage+ video series, host Neil Strother has a conversation with Charles Spence, Customer Programs and Products Manager at Avangrid, to explore how utilities can leverage meter intelligence to design long-term EV strategy that is both cost effective and flexible.

“We know these EVs are coming, and they are going to be a demand on our system,” said Spence. “Our biggest challenge is obviously integrating that load both on a volume basis and on a timing basis. The issue there being that the system is designed for those peak moments, and we have end-of–day peaks already, when people come home, they turn on their AC, TV, all these things, and now when they plug in that EV it will create an issue where it’s not just the volume, it’s the time. That is what we’re trying to do with our demand response managed charging programs.” 

Spence emphasized that data analytics is serving as the foundation for Avangrid’s EV approach. 

“We’re interfacing with a lot of different types of people, usage patterns and new technologies, and we have to be able to understand what’s going on on a very granular level, specific to each customer,  in order to predict what type of customer is going to do what and how they are going to interact with the program or platform that we create. That’s why we leverage data all along the way,” he explained. “It informs programmatic changes and platform changes, from offering new features or incentives to tracking each customer’s progress, and then being able to aggregate those insights to see how our program is performing compared to the goals that we have. Ideally, these insights allow us to adjust on the fly if things are not going the way we want them to.”

Spence went on to describe what his team is learning through one of Avangrid’s first demand response charging programs – a Bidgely partnership. 

“In Connecticut we have 100% or close to 100% AMI  coverage. So we are able to utilize that household energy data for a number of different purposes – primarily through disaggregation. We’re able to pull apart that historic data, identify people who likely do have an EV and offer those customers opportunities,” he said. “We are able to then see which customers are on the more constrained circuits and say, ‘Hey, that neighborhood has 20 Teslas in it, let’s see about getting them into the program.’ For our demand response programs,  we’re able to verify if somebody is participating or not, and when they receive price signals, if they actually respond or not. Because we can see where EV use is concentrated, that data also guides us in upgrading the grid in a given neighborhood or section of our market.”

Spence went on to talk about the many flavors of managed charging programs that are possible, ranging from pure demand response to more active managed charging.

“The program we’re initiating with Bidgely in Connecticut is a pure demand response program, which you could consider to be a subset of the broader managed charging umbrella. We’re looking at how we integrate EV load and time it well,” he said. “On the one hand, you could do a demand response event a few times a month, during very specific hours in a day, for which customers receive a warning ahead of time. On the other hand, you could have a more active managed charging program in which the customer sets the amount of charge that they need, and they tell us what time they need that charge. And then we use smart algorithms to facilitate that charging on a very granular basis -– more so than just turn it off for two hours, turn back on after those two hours. Through that active managed charging, we will be able to get that new load under control. That’s what we’re working on with Bidgely right now.”

When it comes to lessons learned, Spence said that Avangrid, like energy providers worldwide, is still evaluating best practices.

“I think the industry is trying to figure out what works best for what contexts in what territory,” he acknowledged. “Every territory is different. Some have more constrained circuits and some need more heavy-handed programs than others. For this first year of the program, we’re setting ourselves up to be able to do a maximum of 15 events per month. I doubt we’ll ever call that many in a month, because that’s one every two days. But we’re giving ourselves that ability to be able to test with a couple groups of customers. For example, one group might get one event and then one immediately the next day. Another might get one on Monday, and then on Wednesday. A third might get one on Monday, and then one on Thursday. We want to see how participation does or does not drop off. If it does, we’ll be able to make programmatic changes and really get some great insights. We’re trying to build understanding for everyone in the industry at this point.”

Spence went on to discuss Avangrid’s next managed charging program roll out in New York state.

“We are soon going to be launching a very similar program in New York, except that we’re adding managed charging to the demand response,” he described. “We’re giving customers the option to either respond to signals on a basic level where they might earn if they decide not to participate on a given day. Or, they can opt-in to a more active managed charging program where people are earning more, but are also expected to allow us more flexibility to control their vehicle to a greater degree.”

Looking down the road past the program evaluation phase, Spence says Avangrid is simultaneously planning for the technology available today as well as what’s on the horizon – including how energy providers and consumers will increasingly work together.

“In terms of the broader strategy, we are thinking about the managed charging and the demand response programs that we can implement now. But we’re also cognizant of the fact that there’s vehicle-to-grid technology coming soon,” he said. “The vehicle-to-grid stuff is excellent. It’s an opportunity to evolve the utility customer relationship to a point where, rather than us selling kilowatt hours exclusively, consumers will also be able to sell them back to us. And we’ll have a nice little dynamic there.”

Spence said he is also looking forward to the broader adoption of telematics and its potential to inform grid planning.

“Telematics basically gives us the use of the onboard EV computer. Some models have a stronger capability where you don’t only see the data, you can also turn the charger on and off, and understand where people are charging and how much they’re charging. We’re using telematics not only for direct load control — where we turn off charging for a demand response event or throttle it slightly — but also to understand charging behavior outside the home charger. Most charging happens at home, but there is 20 percent-ish that happens elsewhere. And that is huge. Public charging generally occurs in constrained urban areas, which are the same places where grid upgrades are most expensive and the most disruptive to people’s lives. We want to avoid digging up concrete as much as possible. If we’re putting level-two, or even DC fast charging out in these contexts, we want to know who’s using it, when they’re using it, and how they’re using it. And telematics enables that.”

Spence pointed out that, because Avangrid is a subsidiary of the global Iberdrola group, they have a unique advantage in that they can  learn from the EV experience of their European counterparts. 

“We do get quite a bit of support,” Spence acknowledged. “We know that folks in the various European countries are there to answer questions and we can count on their assistance with EV messaging and knowing how to position EV programs in a way that speaks to people both in a value sense, but also in empathetic sense, to improve engagement.”

When asked what it takes to get EV strategy right, Spence replied that, “There are all sorts of ways we could measure success. Fundamentally, we have to get the load integrated and timed properly. But beyond that, we have to really work through that change in the utility-customer relationship. We have to move from an approach where we just send a bill to one where we have a little bit of back and forth with our customers. If we’re going to integrate the load that we are expecting, we have to have participation and buy-in from the customer, and that requires trust, ease of participation, meaningful insights, and lifestyle and financial help as well. If we’re, for example, going to get somebody to, on a regular basis, let us turn off their EV charging for a couple of hours several times a month, they need to know that we are going to be providing them with value — both monetary and lifestyle.”

If you’d like to hear more from Avangrid about its data-driven EV strategy, watch the full Engage+ episode on demand and sign up now to receive updates about future episodes, including episode 4 in September where we will dive into distributed energy resource grid planning and the impact of FERC 2222.