The energy grid isn’t ready for electric vehicles, but IoT can help. Nick Tumilowicz, Director of Product Management at Itron, joins Ryan Chacon on the IoT For All Podcast to discuss the role of IoT in preparing the energy grid for EVs. They talk about the risks of not preparing the grid for EVs, IoT solutions for preparing the grid for EVs, EV heterogeneity, standardization in the EV industry, how the energy industry will evolve, and the future of energy and electric vehicles.
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About Nick Tumilowicz
As Director of Product Management at Itron, Nick Tumilowicz leads the Distributed Energy Management business unit, accountable for global product development of demand response and DER solutions. Prior to joining Itron, Tumilowicz led global research and development at EPRI, accountable for transmission, distribution, and customer-connected energy storage research. He is a strategist and recognized expert in DER management, including solar, storage, and EV technology leveraging decades of unique industry experience to advance global markets toward a clean energy future.
Interested in connecting with Nick? Reach out on LinkedIn!
Itron enables utilities and cities to safely, securely, and reliably deliver critical infrastructure solutions to communities in more than 100 countries. Their portfolio of smart networks, software, services, meters, and sensors helps customers better manage electricity, gas, and water resources. They help improve the quality of life, ensure the safety, and promote the well-being of millions of people around the globe. Itron is dedicated to creating a more resourceful world.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(15:39) Future of energy and EVs
(18:08) Learn more and follow up
– [Ryan] Welcome Nick to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Nick] Yeah, appreciate you having me.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. Before we get into the conversation, I’d love it if you would just give our audience a quick introduction about yourself and the company.
– [Nick] So, name’s Nick Tumilowicz. I am the Director of Product Management at Itron. And for the past few decades, I’ve been providing technology solutions to really help the evolution of the energy transition. And so 20 years ago, that was a slow roll. And today it’s moving at a very fast pace. As far as what I’m doing today at Itron, there’s four pillars to what we’re working on today.
So for the past 40 years, Itron is really well known as being a metering company, providing advances in smart meters like advanced meter reading, advanced meter infrastructure 1.0 for the past 20 years, and today what we call as an industry advanced meter infrastructure 2.0, which effectively, and I’ll talk a little bit more about it, is effectively putting an embedded server within the meter, which is now effectively an energy resource gateway.
So, that’s the story of Itron within that, in distributed energy management. We do energy forecasting for the past 30 years and for the past 15 years, demand response, and now DER management, and what we’ll be talking about today, which is electric vehicles.
– [Ryan] Yeah, fantastic. So let’s go ahead and dive right into to the conversation around electric vehicles.
One of the things that I know is important to kind of address and maybe just explain at a high level to our audience is with more electric vehicles out there on the roads being adopted, the energy grid needs to be prepared for that. And if you could explain just for our audience who may not be as familiar what that exactly means, like how those two tie together.
What’s important to note, what needs to be done and then how IoT technologies are playing a role in preparing that grid for that increased adoption of electric vehicles.
– [Nick] Yeah, no, those are great questions. And I think it’s a good opportunity to just try to clear the air because a lot of media whether it’s news or social media likes to blast these broad brushstrokes as it relates to can our grid handle it.
And like any good engineer would respond, that really depends. And it’s very specific to geography and the infrastructure that you have to be able to support that new load. We, this is not our first rodeo as an electric industry. We experienced this back in the 1950s when this thing called the air conditioner became cheap and ubiquitous and became widely available. And so we found ourselves in a position on our heels, so to speak, to perform transmission and distribution upgrades to accommodate all of those new electric loads. And in the very similar vein, we’re back here in the 2020s with a new load arguably a much larger load, potentially up to 20 kilowatts per vehicle.
And the, I think the message and what we can do as an industry and Itron specifically is looking at is how we can effectively build that bridge. We can still look at one, three, and five year regulatory cycles to put in to do transmission distribution upgrades. As a matter of fact, today, if you want to hook up 20 buses in New York City to have the, give the kids a clean ride to school this Fall, you’re waiting somewhere on the order of three to four years to get those infrastructure upgrades in place.
So the bridge there is software and building confidence that there’s a utility grade software applications and tools that we can use just, to just ensure that those 20 buses don’t charge at the same time. We still get to school, but it’s just a matter of putting in the right algorithms and the right computation to optimize that charging.
– [Ryan] And talk to me a little bit more about where IoT technologies are playing a role in this and in what, how they, how that all fits together.
– [Nick] I think what’s really typical is we’re dealing a lot with this, I guess this continuation of cloud integrations and APIs. And so we have devices in the case of electric vehicles, it also extends and applies to PV, solar, or stationary storage, a battery that might hang inside of your garage. And today, aggregators are connecting to those edge devices, providing those APIs and companies like Itron are aggregating all of these device information, so that way we can control those elements.
In the case of a EV bus, the EV supply equipment or the charger itself, oftentimes, we today can also interrogate and provide command and control directly to the bus through telematics. Those are a couple different options of how we’re bridging that gap today.
– [Ryan] If the necessary steps to prepare the grid for this adoption of EV is not done correctly, done well, what risks does that leave us exposed to?
And just again, talking in it from like someone who’s very new to not really understanding all this, because honestly, I’m not sure how many people really put two and two together that more electric vehicles means obviously more energy demand and how that affects the energy grid. I think a lot of people just take it for granted that they can just go plug their car in and charge things, their house is gonna be fine, but obviously this is gonna have an impact. So what’s that risk look like for not addressing this or doing this correctly?
– [Nick] This is a great question, and I think it really comes to that green box that might be sitting in your backyard or that gray canister that’s sitting on the electric pole above your street.
That is the constraint, and if that is a, has a 100 kVA marker on it, then you can quickly run the math and say after five vehicles at the end of this cul-de-sac, you’re starting to overload that transformer. And so I think what answered your question is that if you ignore that, and you’re not proactive, then you could potentially suffer from an outage.
So I think what we’re offering at Itron and across the industry is let’s be proactive about this, and let’s generate heat maps to see which communities, specifically which transformers are starting to heat up faster than others, and let’s surgically strike so that way we can give customers the choice and the comfort that they need or the reliability.
– [Ryan] When it comes to the technology and the solutions in the IoT space, what exactly, where’s the big value that they’re providing in all of this? And we’ve actually, I’ve spoken to some people many months ago who have built grid management or grid monitoring solutions with IoT technologies, but I’m just curious to expand on that a bit more to understand that as EVs grow, how IoT will continue to probably play a role and continue to provide access to that data and information that allows this to scale as more vehicles hit the market and more things are pulling on the grids energy.
– [Nick] That’s a great question. So I think the way this really started is we always throw hardware at the problem. Linux and back servers. And now you’ve got points of failure. You’ve got twisted pairs that are communicating through some standard or proprietary protocol. So we’re moving now, I think, away from all of this science experiment, so to speak, but that’s worked effectively for the past 20 years or so. Today, as I mentioned, a lot of this is going to the cloud through APIs. A lot of these device manufacturers are leverage that as part of their business model to sell those APIs and grid services if you will. There are some limitations with that however. So if you happen to be a utility that really needs high fidelity, low latency data and real time stream, that’s where companies like Itron come in.
And specifically, as I mentioned at the beginning, we now have a meter. You take a customer profile or a program, you drop it in at the meter and drives outcomes and results by communicating directly to those devices, call it a school bus. But furthermore, it’s doing that in context of the grid conditions.
So how loaded is that transformer? Do you have any thermal or voltage violations? And so with that, now you have the ability to have that 360 view really telling that bus when and where to charge.
– [Ryan] Now when it comes to this challenges of this type of solution that needs to be or that is being built, being done for the adoption of electric vehicles, how does the, I guess, diverse nature of the different types of vehicles, the different models of vehicles, the firmware, the energy that is required for each of these vehicles when it comes to charging, how does that diverse nature of things affect solving this problem?
– [Nick] There’s two components to that, Ryan. So, one is there’s a technical component, which is are we going to go down the road of proprietary protocols and capturing that by each make. Is Ford going to do something different than GM, which is different than Tesla?
So we have to be mindful. Ideally, as an industry to move forward together, we would all approach some sense of industry standards, which I think is what we’re really shooting for. The second vector there is the business model. So we have an elephant in the room, if you will, happening right now between who owns the customers. The electric utility? Is it the vehicle OEM?
And so how do we work together? And Itron’s trying to figure out with those two entities, how can we move together to just be able to manage this so we can allow you and your audience to adopt as many electric vehicles as they’d like in the service territory near them.
– [Ryan] A lot of times when we talk about it with IoT solutions technologies are different standards that fall into place for bringing new technologies to market, how they work together and how they get adopted.
Is there a similar situation in this space regarding just industry standards that need to be followed or things like that?
– [Nick] Yeah, for sure. I won’t bore you with all of the technical details of all the different standards that are out there, but you have your standard, your UL, Underwriter Laboratories, you have your IEEEs, you have your IECs, as well as maybe like the CSAs of the world that have these, that the challenge there is that this can take five to 10 years for a lot of these standards to be adopted.
So this is one of the challenges. And in the meantime, what we’re trying to do is just move forward to just demonstrate, especially to the grid planners and the operators, that they can develop confidence in this managed software type of situation and ideally skate to the puck and be able to do this in a local and an autonomous way in the event that the cloud can’t be relied upon.
– [Ryan] Kind of in that same kind of thought regarding communication protocols, which is, again, another thing that we talked a lot about in IoT. How do you, how is it being handled when there are proprietary protocols, custom APIs and things like that working in kind of the same environment to be able to solve this problem.
– [Nick] Well, the first thing I think that’s a challenge is that it always adds cost, right?
So when we have proprietary protocols, or we have customized integrations that need to happen, then this slows, I think, down what we’re really trying to do here is we have really aggressive decarbonization goals. And so how are we going to be able to accommodate the 4 million vehicles in the U.S. today or the 10 million vehicles globally that were sold this year and 35% year over year growth next year. So really need to reduce that cost. We really need to standardize. So it makes it more challenging. The good news is I think we’re getting better at some of these API integrations to the devices.
We’ve had a few years to develop these APIs. But in the end, I think that’s going to suffer a bit from that real time automation that I think is going to be requested now and in the future.
– [Ryan] One of the last questions I wanted to ask you before we transition to wrapping up here is how do you see the industry evolving when it comes to OEMs, electric utility, just different types of, the industry shifting and that battle for customers.
How is that being viewed or how is that a challenge to the space as well?
– [Nick] That’s tough. And that’s a that’s a very large question to address, and I think one thing that we, I think, as Itron are recognizing is that most of our customers today at Itron are utilities or cities.
And so we have that ability to provide programs for their customers, and now we just need to bring in the device integrators, makes and models into that fold. So a vehicle OEM would be a good example of one of them to say, hey, utility X and Itron’s managing some programs sends thousands of vehicles under this make and model.
Let’s work together to find a way to make it mutually beneficial for both the vehicle OEMs and the utilities and most importantly for the customer who’s buying the electricity and for the customer who bought the vehicle.
– [Ryan] Where do you see all this going, just generally speaking? Obviously adoption of electric vehicles is increasing and this is going to become more of a challenge that needs to be solved. Not just the grid preparation but just across the board, there’s going to be challenges I’m sure that come up. What is the future outlook look like, or how do you all view things as far as where we’re headed, where we’re going over the next 12, 18, 24 plus months?
– [Nick] I think in the next few years, what we’re going to start to see is a lot of pressure being put on utilities to accelerate the adoption of EVs, right?
You’re going to start to see even through interconnection processes customers requesting, I really invested in this or a state has provided funding for X amount of municipal buses and they can only interconnect a few. So that is going to be in the very near term utilities and these fleet owners and operators or light duty vehicle owners like you and me are going to be requesting that we are not delayed by the incapabilities of the grid. Hence, building out that solution, and I think over time, as we’ve demonstrated with stationary storage, big batteries that are deployed to the tunes of gigawatts today, we had the exact same problem seven years ago, and nobody trusted it because that is the job of a grid operator is to see it not only as an asset, but it truly is a liability because batteries can do both things, go both ways.
If we can do that same thing, carbon copy it, do it with batteries on wheels, I think we’re going to be better for it. And then finally, I think, we’re actually demonstrating it right now with 6 million meters deployed across a dozen utilities, is that local control and the automation that I spoke of.
So I think really that’s where things are going to be headed in the future because it reduces the cost, it reduces the level of effort, and it allows customers to adopt what it is they want to adopt with the existing grid that we have.
– [Ryan] Great way to break all that down. This is a topic that I know needs definitely more discussion around it for sure given the growth of electric vehicles.
And I don’t think many people really consider the impact it has on and requirements that are needed to make this actually a sustainable thing as adoption grows. So I’m glad we were able to have a few minutes here to chat and provide some insights for our audience. If our audience wants to follow up on this conversation, learn more about what you all have going on, just touch base in any way, what’s the best way they can do that?
– [Nick] Yeah, you can always reach out to our website at itron.com. And whatever, we also have a good team on staff, and we can publish that later for follow up.
– [Ryan] Well, Nick, thank you again so much for taking the time. Really appreciate it and excited to get this out to our audience.
– [Nick] Yeah. Thank you, Ryan. Appreciate it.