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In mid-September 2019, Internet retail giant Amazon caught the world’s attention with the announcement of its order of 100,000 electric delivery vans, possibly the largest such electric vehicle (EV) order ever. It is the latest major milestone in EVs’ accelerating role as a core component of corporate sustainability. Amazon’s news follows on an early-2019 announcement from ride-hailing app Lyft to similarly add thousands of EVs to its fleet, all of them powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Now, a recently released report from nonprofit software tech company WattTime shows how EVs can be even cleaner than they already are, further supercharging corporations’ decarbonization efforts. The key is emissions-optimized EV charging, powered by software intelligence.

The concept is simple, yet powerful: as the U.S. grid adds more renewable energy, the real-time emissions rate of the grid is becoming increasingly variable, with wind and/or solar supplying electricity in one moment and coal and/or natural gas ramping up the next. With the right software signal, smarter EV charging can sync with moments of cleaner energy and pause charging during moments of dirty energy. It’s like a “green” button for EV charging that further reduces associated grid emissions while still full charging the battery at the end of the charging period.

Workplace charging is growing fast, and a ripe scenario for emissions savings

Daytime workplace EV charging is one of the two most-common charging scenarios, alongside overnight at-home charging. It’s especially effective when paired with a regional grid mix well-matched to daytime charging, such as in California where lots of solar and some wind energy saturate the daytime hours.

The WattTime analysis found that emissions-optimized daytime workplace charging in a place like California could reduce associated EV emissions a further 12 percent annually and over 90 percent on individual days. These are additional, incremental emissions savings above and beyond the switch from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to EVs charged on a variety of grid mixes.

The workplace EV charging market—as measured by both corporate EVSE expansion commitments and EVSE infrastructure deployment forecasts—is growing rapidly.

For example, The Climate Group’s EV100 initiative launched with 10 founding members in September 2017. The initiative brings together “forward-looking companies committed to accelerating the transition to EVs and making electric transport the new normal by 2030.” By fall 2018, that number had grown to 23 members; by September 2019, it has now grown to 59 members.

For another example, by many estimates there are upwards of 9,000 charging stations and a total of nearly 19,000 charging plugs at workplaces across the United States (filtering the U.S. Department of Energy’s electric vehicle charging station database by level 2, public, privately-owned stations). By 2030, the Edison Electric Institute forecasts a need for an incredible 1.2 million workplace level 2 charging stations to help accommodate the anticipated 19 million EVs on the country’s roads and highways by then.

5 ways smarter EV charging super-boosts corporate sustainability

At the end of the day, smarter, emissions-optimized EV charging helps make EVs even more cleaner. In turn, that supercharges corporate sustainability in at least five significant ways:

  • Brand image: More than ever, translating corporate sustainability efforts into positive brand value comes down to authenticity and making true inroads to decarbonization. It’s behind the rise of “additionality” as the new metric for renewable energy procurement. Emissions-optimized charging provides a similar boost to the simple installation of workplace EV charging stations.
     
  • Employee appeal: According to a 2017 federal study, employees who have access to workplace charging are six times more likely to purchase an EV than those who lack such access. Smarter, emissions-optimized charging “sweetens the deal,” boosting employee confidence that their EV purchase is indeed taking a bite out of overall emissions.
     
  • Scope 3 emissions of employee commutes: Emissions associated with employees’ commutes typically fall under the Scope 3 category of the GHG Protocol for corporate sustainability reporting. Slashing those emissions starts with getting employees out of ICE vehicles and into EVs. Emissions-optimized charging takes those emissions reductions even further… without any upgrades to hardware, whether employees’ EVs or the workplace charging stations they use to refill their batteries.
     
  • Fleet emissions: Whether massive fleets of delivery vans or platoons of corporate cars, electrification and emissions-optimized charging go hand-in-hand to make the biggest dent in fleet emissions.
     
  • Renewable energy procurement: For corporations serious about integrating more wind and solar renewable energy on the grid, emissions-optimized EV charging can be a surprising yet powerful tool. As more and more variable renewables get added to the grid, we’re seeing increased instances of curtailment—times when perfectly good but surplus renewable energy generation gets “thrown away” because there isn’t enough demand to absorb it. Smarter charging knows when these moments occur, so that EVs’ batteries can soak up more of that clean energy and avoid charging during times of dirtier energy.

Everywhere we look, digitalization and software-enabled capabilities are at the heart of a new wave in corporate sustainability, from building energy management systems that optimize consumption to battery energy storage systems that mitigate demand charges to sophisticated power purchase agreements that match renewable energy procurement to actual corporate load profiles. As electric vehicles become an increasingly central part of corporations’ strategies, smarter, emissions-optimized EV charging should be at the heart of the discussion. Without it, integrating variable renewables while increasing EV load will simply not be possible, and we’ll all be leaving easy emissions savings on the table.

Image credit: Andrew Roberts/Unsplash

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How EV Charging, Corporate Fleets Can Become Even Cleaner
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EV charging, as well as corporate fleets becoming all-electric, can be even cleaner than they already are, via software intelligence.
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