Edison's EV Tech Center is readying for what they see as a gathering storm for electric vehicles
On a recent trip to Southern California Edison's Electric Vehicle Tech Center in Pomona, California, I was struck by the depth and breadth of preparations the utility was making for EVs -- and how long they've been working on them. For 13 years, Ed Kjaer, Director of Electric Transportation at SCE has driven to work in an electric car. Over that 13-year period, Kjaer's and the 300 other all-electric Toyota RAV-4s owned and operated by Southern California Edison--the largest pure battery electric vehicles in the U.S.--have driven over 18 million miles and prevented 9,600 tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.
Kjaer said there has been unprecedented activity around plug-in vehicles as of late. And one not need to look far to see evidence of that activity. Across town at the Nissan LEAF unveiling at Dodgers Stadium last week, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn predicted there would easily be one million electric cars on U.S. roads by 2015.
Kjaer said that the coalescing of support from President Obama and a bipartisan coalition in Congress, along with movement in the industry from China and India, and advancements in smart research (grids, appliances, cars, meters, etc.) means that there is a perfect storm building for EVs right now.
"Plug-in vehicles are going to be the star of the L.A. Auto Show," added SCE's Kjaer, whose enthusiasm was tempered just a little by the reality of the infrastructural challenges that lay ahead.
Utilities trying to keep up with--and ahead of--the Joneses
While Kjaer and his team are focused on testing the cars along with their batteries and drivetrains, but they are also researching energy storage, smart-meters and appliances, and the EV-charging infrastructure.
"Grids need to evolve from unidirectional to multidirectional," said Kjaer. Both Kjaer and Edison chairman and CEO Ted Craver will tell you that while they provide electricity to 15 million people across SCE's service area, there is plenty of capacity on the system for EVs, especially if it is properly planned for.
Part of the planning SCE is undertaking is identifying the clusters of early adopters and hand-raisers likely to be the first to plug-in to the EV lifestyle. Because while they have spare capacity on the grid, too many 240-volt fast-charging stations per substation could have a crippling impact on current infrastructure.
To that effect, Edison CEO Craver admitted he was "nervous about making the transition too fast" and that they need to "balance the need to change with the ability to change too quickly."
Travel and lodging for the tour of the EV Tech Center were provided by Edison International. Follow Tim Hurst on twitter @ecopolitologist.