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Enmax electric vehicle pilot to track user charging habits

Enmax has been planning for powerful growth in the electric vehicle market over the next decade, and is asking for Calgarians to help supercharge that effort.

Current electric vehicle owners have been asked to join in phase two of the energy utility’s electric vehicle data pilot program starting today.

Enmax is looking for 250 electric vehicle owners to share their charging information, helping Enmax to better understand where and when electric vehicles are getting powered.

“We’re going to be able to look at that data and see how we might in the future influence charging behaviour,” said Jana Mosley, president of Enmax Power.

That could include incentivizing owners to charge their vehicles overnight instead of during peak electricity use hours.

Owners who sign up for the pilot will receive a Geotab device that will track their vehicle charging patterns until December of 2022.

In exchange, the electric vehicle owners will receive a $20 sign up bonus, and a thank you gift at the end of the pilot program. Phase two of the pilot program is open to customers of any of the city’s power providers, not just ENMAX customers.

Data for more efficient power usage

Mosley said that having data from the pilot program is important in order to stay ahead of future use of the electric grid.

"We do see increased load on our system due to electrification of transportation," she said.

"We want to make sure that we can stay ahead of the system upgrades that might be required, and more importantly, figure out how we maximize our existing grid so that we can defer or avoid incremental investment in the system."

Currently there are approximately 3,000 electric vehicles being driven in Calgary. The utility expects this number to grow to over 200,000 by 2035.

Blake Shaffer, an economics professor at the University of Calgary and former energy trader, said that finding out the right time of day to charge can save consumers money in the long run.

"If we don't find ways to sort of spread our charging so that we're not all doing it right at 6 p.m., when everyone comes home from work, and can spread it across more smoothly, we can avoid costly upgrades because we'd have to improve the equipment," said Shaffer.

"Those upgrades, the way distribution tariffs work, they're paid by everybody," he said.

He said the goal was to find fair ways of providing power for electric vehicle owners, without unfairly charging non-electric vehicle owners for system upgrades that might not use or need.

Economist Blake Shaffer stood next to his electric vehicle and electric bike at his home in Calgary on Tuesday, November 23, 2021. Shaffer has a level two charger for his vehicle, and a level one charger for his electric bike. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Understanding behaviour of EV owners will lead to better incentives

Shaffer said that currently there are no incentives for private residential owners of electric vehicles to charge at different times of the day.

"It doesn't matter from a private perspective when you charge because we don't have any notion of hourly pricing at the residential level," he said.

"At the grid level, it matters quite a bit. So the real system costs aren't reflected all the way down to the consumer."

He said that there was not much appetite among most consumers to pay for electricity by grid demand. Yet peak demand pricing at the grid level is eventually factored into consumer-level pricing.

The data from the Enmax pilot project could help to find ways of altering consumer behaviour for the benefit of grid utilization, and consumer pocketbooks.

"It really is one of these instances where it's that proverbial win–win, where you're finding ways for people to to use electricity in times with lower system costs ... but it's also really lowering those system costs so that even a non-EV owner now benefits because there's not that cost on the system," said Shaffer.

Current grid can handle load, sort of

Both Mosley and Shaffer said that the current electric grid has the capacity for the expected number of electric vehicles in the future.

Shaffer said that home charging units for vehicles draw about seven kilowatts of power.

"Seven kilowatts is a big load. To put it in perspective an air conditioner is about two, and an electric oven might be one," he said.

"That's not a load that the distribution grid is really designed for. It can handle it, but it's going to be onerous on the equipment," he said.

Mosley said it was Enmax's role as an energy provider to meet the needs of their customers. That means finding ways to improve electrical grid usage.

"It's our job to make sure that we are planning and evolving the grid to meet our customer needs. Whether they're connecting solar to the rooftop, whether they're changing the types of appliances and demand that they have in their own home, and whether they're connecting electric vehicles," she said.

"So while I do see a large increase in load and some challenges ahead of us, I'm confident that our team will be able to stay ahead of that curve."