Our Insights

BOLT-ing to Park City

March 9, 2020

Driving POWER’s EV to CERV

By Jason Marenda, Distribution Services Department Manager

Recently, I took the company electric vehicle, a Chevy Bolt, on a road trip to Park City and back (if you’re following POWER Engineers Instagram account @pwrengineers, this is old news to you). I’d been invited to sit on a panel on electric vehicle infrastructure grid integration at the Conference for Electric Roads and Vehicles (CERV 2020, pronounced like the type of pitch Sandy Koufax was so good at throwing). This was not only my first road trip in an EV, but the first time that I had ever driven one. As you might imagine, I learned a lot, both from the drive and the conference itself.

It’s just a car…

I’m not sure what I expected, but the actual driving experience was mostly the same. Maybe I expected some Jetsons-style talking computer to interact with while I was driving, but that turned out not to be the case. I connected my phone to the audio system and listened to an audiobook the whole time and other than the “fuel tank” using weird units like kilowatt-hours and kilowatts, I would have never known that I was in an EV. The quietness while driving around town was weird, but if you normally drive with the radio on, you would probably never notice it.

…except for the pedal thing

The one difference in driving was the concept of one-pedal driving—only using the gas pedal and taking your foot off of the gas pedal to brake, kind of like a golf cart. While in this mode, the battery regenerates while the car is slowing down, so you never have to use the brake unless you want to stop really fast. It almost felt like you had left the parking brake on or shifted into low gear. I will say that once I got used to this, I loved it. Think about going from a manual transmission to an automatic.

Range anxiety (it’s not that bad)

The Bolt that I was driving showed both the maximum and minimum range that you had left in the car. When fully charged it indicated somewhere between 150 and 200 miles. During one leg when I was worried about making it to the next charging station, I turned down the heat to 65 and slowed down to 55 and was able to get closer to the maximum end of things. But driving 80 on the interstate with the heat set at 72 and I was right at the lower end. Never before had I worried about whether I really needed the seat warmers since it would affect the efficiency of the car I was driving.

Charging up

I was pleasantly surprised at the number of fast DC charging stations available between Hailey, ID and Park City, UT. There was one stretch of about 120 miles between Heyburn, ID and Brigham City, UT that didn’t have a single charger, but other than that, I had a number of stations to choose from. As with everything these days, there are plenty of apps (I used ChargeHub) that showed charging locations, distance from you, type of chargers, cost, pictures, reviews, etc..

When mapping out the trip, I made sure to find all the 350 kW fast DC charging stations so that I wouldn’t have to wait long to charge—we’d estimated each charge would take 20 minutes or so. Turns out the Bolt and other EVs limit the rate that you can charge: in this case, the charge rate maxed out at 55 kW and was further limited when the battery was less than 20% or more than 80% charged. It took me more than an hour to charge every time—definitely an impediment to anyone who would be relying on an EV for long trips.

Oh yeah—the conference

The conference was a great learning experience. My understanding and involvement with EV charging infrastructure has been limited to personal vehicles and plug-in charging. To say that was considered old news to the people attending is an understatement, to say the least. The presenters discussed innovative ways to electrify complete city bus systems (complicated algorithms used to determine the number of chargers and buses needed), heavy industrial equipment, and retail distribution fleets. Additionally, discussions on plug-in charging were pretty much non-existent as these researchers talked about how they were perfecting both static (car sitting on a charging pad) and dynamic (car charges while driving down a highway charging corridor) wireless charging.

While most of the conference focused on electric roads and fleet transportation, I sat on a panel where we discussed the integration of electric vehicle charging equipment into the electrical distribution system. Most of the panel talked about specific projects that we had worked on and one member talked about how they were able to significantly minimize the electric demand required for the full electrification of a city bus system. I spoke about ways we could improve our distribution system planning processes to make it easier for the integration of various EV chargers. For instance, using hosting capacity studies to provide maps of distribution systems that show locations where no infrastructure upgrades would be needed to install more EV chargers. Combining the hosting capacity studies with the use of the additional data that we have available from our distribution systems will allow us to predict EV adoption rates more accurately and to better determine necessary system upgrades to accommodate the new chargers.

The trip was well worth it, both in experiencing a road trip in an EV and gaining a better understanding of what the future holds for the electrification of our transportation industry. This improved knowledge of what our electric transmission and distribution systems must be prepared to handle in the near future will allow me to make better system planning decisions as I work with our clients throughout the nation.

Jason Marenda is a senior project engineer and Distribution Services Department manager in our Power Delivery division. He focuses on distribution planning and system studies, including distributed energy resource interconnects and system impact studies. For more information on POWER’s DER or electric vehicle-related services, please contact him at jason.marenda@powereng.com