Highlights from the Power Procurement Playbook

Published on
Sep 19, 2023
Written by
Jonathan Colbert
Read time
5 minutes
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We’ve just published the second in our Electrification at Scale Playbook Series, Solving the Power Procurement Challenge.

When it comes to fleets’ electrification at scale, charging infrastructure is the hardest part. And power procurement is a particular challenge. Voltera faces the same challenges a fleet would but we’re uniquely equipped to solve them. And we've been solving them; the Power Procurement Playbook explains how.

“Literally the power infrastructure is the whole problem to solve, the whole bottleneck." Alex Nicholas, VP of Operations at MHX
Speaking at ACT Expo 2023

The Playbook is written for organizations coming out of the EV deployment pilot phase, looking to scale massively and quickly. We're talking about power-intensive (5-20 MW) facilities – the kind of EV charging infrastructure developments that have never been done before. We focus on off-premises facilities, for fleets that aren’t able to deploy charging infrastructure at scale at their existing sites.

Access the Playbook Now

Tough Challenges

The challenges that affect power procurement for a multi-megawatt EV charging facility are not new; they've always affected large-scale developments that require significant amounts of power. But for fleets and others new to the process of procuring multi-megawatts of power, understanding these challenges – and planning for them – is critical to success.

All stakeholders have a role to play in solving these challenges; the burden is not utilities' alone. Fleets need to be transparent about when and where they're planning to electrify, and starting early – two years early – is key.

“The key really is the confluence between vehicle availability and infrastructure. We have to get that right. But there are things you don’t control like utility timelines and funding. It’s a very challenging dance to have to do.” Drew Cullen, Senior VP of Fuels & Facility Services at Penske Transportation Solutions Speaking at ACT Expo 2023

The top power procurement challenges include:

  • Locational capacity constraints – When the fleet operator’s business model depends on route optimization, charging facilities must be strategically located. Those locations are often in areas where distribution-level power capacity is already constrained. (System-level capacity is about having enough power on the grid; distribution-level capacity is having enough power in that particular location.)
  • Distribution system upgrade timelines – Where distribution-level power capacity is constrained, a multi-megawatt charging facility may require the utility to build new distribution system infrastructure. Utility timelines for such upgrades are often much longer than fleets' EV deployment timelines – a mismatch driven by the challenges utilities face in supporting fleet electrification at scale, supply chain constraints, and the fact that many fleets are just now learning how far in advance of vehicle deployment they need to start planning for charging infrastructure.
  • Interconnection process timelines – Utility interconnection is the process of connecting a charging site to the power grid and involves the site-level deployment of equipment such as transformers.Utility timelines for interconnection are often the longest single piece in the site development process and as with distribution system upgrades, often don't match fleets’ vehicle deployment timelines.
  • Differences across markets – Every utility has its own way of working, driven by regulation or by the particularities of the market, or simply by history. Unfortunately, that makes it impossible to have a unified set of processes for working with utilities across the country. And because most fleets have national operations, fleet wide electrification requires learning the idiosyncrasies of power procurement ineach market, which makes procuring power for EV charging more complex, costly, and time-consuming.
  • E-mobility is only one piece of the energy transition utilities are facing – Power utilities face a wide range of challenges as they navigate the ongoing energy transition, which involves shifting from fossil fuels to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. Challenges utilities face range from the integration of renewable energy, grid stability and reliability, decentralization and distributed energy resources, among others. In many cases utilities are trying to do much more work without proportionately expanded budgets or workforces.

Explore these challenges in depth: Access the Playbook Now

Proven Solutions

Power procurement challenges affect any organization trying to deploy EV charging infrastructure at scale – be it a fleet or a third party like Voltera. But while fleets do not typically consider EV charging to be their core business, Voltera does. We wake up thinking about how to solve these and the other challenges associated with EV charging infrastructure deployment and operations. And, we have deep experience working with utilities and customers to get massive amounts of power to particular locations. (That's one of the benefits of having a lot of team members who came over from the datacenter side.)

“Creative solutions, engaging the right partners is absolutely critical. It will get busier so starting early is even more important. The grid will eventually be challenged once demand rises. Get public stakeholders involved. Scale up the proper way.” Dejan Antunovic, Electrification Program Manager at PepsiCo Speaking at 2023 EV Charging Summit and Expo

Our playbook for solving the power procurement challenges includes:

  • Proactive investment – Part of our motivation behind investing early is to capture available distribution capacity, because it may be the last capacity available in that particular location. About half of our projects are building an EV charging facility for a particular customer in a specific location; the other half of our sites we’re developing on a thesis basis. In both cases, proactive identification and screening of potential sites is key. Our robust site selection tools take over 50 data sets into account, including whether the site can be adequately supplied with power. Get the Playbook to see two examples of Voltera’s proactive investment inaction.
  • Established relationships and experience working with utilities – Our relationships with utilities are part of oursecret sauce. It's one thing to say this but it's a whole other thing to actually build those relationships. With a background in EV charging, datacenter development and deployment, the Voltera team has extensive experience working with local utilities, securing and coordinating necessary power. Get the Playbook to meet the team and see Voltera in action working with utilities in Southern California.
  • Transparency around capacity, from utilities to developers/fleets and from developers/fleets to utilities –Getting information on where power is and how much is there is complicated and every utility is different in how easily accessible that information is. So in key markets we're doing our own mapping to track capacity. We also take information about where our customers are operating their vehicles and what the operational characteristics are and talk to utilities about the sites that we're considering and the amount of power we're looking for.
  • Increased utility readiness – InCalifornia, where regulations are driving much more rapid deployment of EVs at scale than anywhere else, many utilities have programs to help fleets easily and cost-effectively install charging infrastructure (for example, PG&E’sEV Fleet program and SCE’s Charge Ready Transport program, and the Rule 29program). But programs like those can only go so far; the long-term solution is ensuring utilities can make anticipatory investment. Get the Playbook to learn about utility business model reforms in California, Colorado, and New York.
  • Load management – Our primary objective is to ensure customers’ vehicles are charged when they need to be charged. Most customers are less concerned about how we make that happen, which gives us opportunities for load management. That is the least expensive, simplest, and quickest way to bridge a potential shortfall between the amount of power the utility can deliver and the amount of power required to charge the vehicles on the site.
  • On-site storage and/or generation – If a site hasn't yet reached its full power ramp, leveraging batteries to store and then later release energy could amplify utility power capacity in the interim. (There may be other benefits of on-site battery storage as well.) One of the challenges is how much space the battery takes up that could otherwise be used for charging stalls. Generating power on-site could be another way to bridge a gap between utility supply and site demand. There is a variety of on-site generation options, each of which has its own (in some cases significant) downsides.

Electrification at Scale Playbook Series

This Power Procurement Playbook is the second in a series ofPlaybooks covering the entire EV charging infrastructure value chain – showing the challenges and opportunities at each stage, and how Voltera helps customers overcome those challenges and capture opportunities.

Check out Playbook 1: Real Estate Identification & Acquisition at Scale.

And stay tuned for more in the Electrification at Scale Playbook series.