The year-long study by the Alberta-based electricity provider aims to determine what programs, policies or regulations are most effective in motivating drivers to shift the time of day they charge to lessen demand on the grid
As more electric vehicles hit Canadian roads, Enmax Power wants to ensure Alberta’s power grid will be able to support and grow with the new wave of EV adoption. A key issue: ensuring more EV drivers charge their vehicles when overall electricity demand is lower, thereby reducing strain on grid capacity.
To help it get there, the Alberta-based energy utility is looking for 250 local Calgary EV owners to participate in a pilot project studying their charging behaviour and how to shift what times they charge.
“Today we have around 3,000 EVs on our roads here in Calgary and we are forecasting that could be anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 by 2035,” says Enmax Power president Jana Mosley, in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada. “We need to make sure that we understand charging behaviour and the overall effects that the EVs have on the grid and plan a grid that is going to be sustainable with that growth.”
Residents who sign up will have an automated Geotab device installed in their vehicles, which will monitor where they are charging, for how long and when. Enmax adds that during the year-long study, it will be testing different types of incentives to determine the best ways to encourage drivers to shift to off-peak charging times.
Participants will also receive a $20 “reward” when they start the program and a thank-you gift at the end.
Taxing the system
This latest announcement is part of Enmax’s second phase of its Charge Up program, which started in 2019. The results from the 18-month-long first phase of the study found that 80 per cent of participants started charging their vehicles at 5 p.m., which coincides with peak demands hours.
“If we have everybody coming and plugging in them at the same time, and that’s really taxing the system. It’s going to lead us to need to replace transformers that are serving those residential areas and perhaps even the conductor that’s feeding different homes,” says Mosley.
Mosley says Enmax is looking forward to seeing what mechanisms will be most effective to shift charging behaviour. Jurisdictions such as Ontario, she notes, have adopted time-of-use rates to incentivize people to use electricity when it is less expensive. Once Enmax has some data from this study, she says it will inform “how we might leverage that to minimize investment in the grid, maximize what we’ve got today while meeting customer needs.”
The goal is to identify “the best programs, the best regulatory or policy approach where we can come together with other utilities with the regulator and the government to inform how we will enable all of this adoption while keeping investment in the system as low as possible,” says Mosley. “[We want to] come up with creative solutions around serving that load, without necessarily the traditional infrastructure upgrades and enabling net-zero goals by 2050 or earlier.”
Best solution a “win-win”
Blake Shaffer, an EV driver and economics professor at the University of Calgary quoted in the press release announcing the pilot, said, “As an electric vehicle owner, I’m flexible around when I charge, and if there’s a better time for the system, and that leads to a financial benefit for customers like me, that sounds like a win-win.”
“As an economist, we know that EVs are growing in popularity, and integrating them into the grid in a cost-effective way, is the right thing to do. Pilots like this are a good example of how we can prepare smartly.”