As vehicle electrification expands for both commercial and consumer use, there will be an increasing need for greater electric-grid capacity. In turn, fleets will need to work more closely with their utility — or multiple utilities — to manage the load.
This was one of the points imparted by Muffi Ghadiali, head of Ford Pro Charging, as part of the keynote address at the 2021 Fleet Forward Conference in San Jose on Nov. 11. Ghadiali joined Tim Baughman, Ford Pro general manager for North America, on stage.
“Over the next 10 years, utilities see electrification as a huge opportunity but also a challenge,” Ghadiali said. “There’s going to be a massive new load on the grid. Utilities are trying to figure out where and when the load is going to materialize and exactly where the depots are going to be located so they can manage the energy generation and distribution. And even more importantly, can the utilities actually control the load?”
This is one reason why fleets need to keep in mind where their depots are going to be located physically, he said. For national fleets, that will mean connecting to multiple utilities with different complexities.
Ford Pro, the rebranding of the automaker’s commercial business, goes beyond selling and servicing vehicles to help fleets connect Ford vehicle’s physical hardware with software — including telematics data — that will be essential to harvest for smart electrification.
Ford Pro works with utilities on demand response, Ghadiali said, which entails tying into the EV infrastructure to determine how much energy is available and the most optimal times to deliver that energy.
“The utility might tell us, ‘Hey, can you turn down charging for the next two hours because there are load demands elsewhere,’” he said. “And we look at the fleet and say, ‘The vehicle is going to be here for the next six hours, so we can turn it down (a certain amount).’”
In this scenario there is a direct economic benefit for the fleet customer because the utility is willing to pay the fleet to reduce the load, Ghadiali said. “There’s nuance to this, and we at Ford Pro are trying to isolate these issues from fleet customers so they can focus on what matters most, running their fleets.”
Ghadiali referenced severe weather events in California and Texas that have pushed the grid to the limit. This stresses the need for grid resiliency and the ability to reduce peak load. This will distribute some of that energy to the edges with solutions such as local battery storage and renewables such as solar.
“All of this has to be done in conjunction with the utility because they will still be the primary energy provider,” he said.
This load balancing is already taking shape, Baughman said, as some owners of Ford F-150 hybrids in Texas used the vehicle’s bidirectional power to heat their homes. Bidirectional power will be an option on the coming electric F-150, which will allow for emergency use but also to charge back to the grid at night.