In a move highlighting the growing importance of electric charging stations to utilities, Italian power giant Enel has bought a small, fast-growing California developer of charging stations and power management software.
Through its EnerNOC subsidiary, Enel acquired San Carlos, Calif.-based Electric Motor Werks for an undisclosed amount, in a transaction that could be a harbinger of things to come for a new generation of grid storage and power management software companies.
“Electric vehicles have the potential to be one of the most disruptive technologies the modern electricity grid has faced in the last one hundred years,” said Francesco Venturini, head of Enel’s Global e-Solutions division, in a statement. “The electric mobility revolution is leading utilities, grid operators, and consumers to rethink traditional business models, invest in new infrastructure, and roll out new solutions to provide flexibility and resiliency to the grid.”
Driving the acquisition is a flurry of news over the past few months as carmakers have committed to moving their fleets to full or hybrid-electric drive trains.
The road to this electric vehicle future is being paved by announcements from some of the world’s biggest economies of their intention to ban the sale of diesel and gasoline cars. So far, France and England are looking at a ban on combustion engines by 2040, while India and China, the world’s most populous nations, are also planning a ban on gas vehicles within the next 20 years.
Utilities are responding to the changing nature of vehicle fleets and the fuel that will power them. In fact, in this year alone, utilities in California have proposed over $1 billion for residential and commercial charging networks for electric vehicles.
With eMotorWerks, Enel gets a developer of charging technologies, which also acts as a white-label supplier of charging technologies, as well as a software solution for managing power and distributing it across a grid.
Through partners like Clipper Creek, AeroVironment and Volta Charging, and its own charging station sales, eMotorWerks has deployed roughly 25,000 systems, according to the company’s chief executive Val Miftakhov.
What differentiates eMotorWerks from other charging companies like EvGo, which was acquired by the private equity firm Vision Ridge last year, is its focus on residential — rather than commercial — charging stations.
By buying eMotorWerks, Enel picks up more than just a network of home chargers. It also gets a power management and load balancing system. Through the actual installed chargers that eMotorWerks manages it has access to roughly 10 megawatts of storage at peak power times available for sale to utilities as they need them, according to Miftakhov.
The power management software that the company has developed allows it to manage when cars on its network will recharge… meaning that it can act as a load balancer for utilities, drawing down power from renewable sources when demand is lower, and feeding power into the grid for load management during demand spikes.
“The California grid is divided into zones and each of the zones has its own pricing,” says Miftakhov. “We organize our energy groups by zones, categorize the load and use the information to go back to the grid operator and tell the utility about flexible capacity and we can use that to balance the grid.”
Issues of power management and control will be critical as more electric vehicles are added to the grid.
“[As] EV adoption grows, utilities must either add more infrastructure to meet energy demands or adopt smart-charging solutions,” said Miftakhov. “eMotorWerks’ solution minimizes EV emissions and remotely optimizes charging load, which can reduce peak demands and increase the likelihood that EVs charge on cheaper and cleaner renewable energy.”
Indeed, recent reports indicate that local distribution points may not be able to stand up to the increases in energy demand without some sort of power management system.
A report from FleetCarma, a logistics and networked fleet management technology developer, outlined the breadth of the problem. Typically, electric vehicles require the same amount of power as a small household to make a roughly 30-mile round trip. That puts a lot of stress on transformers, which manage the distribution of power among neighborhoods.
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