Electric Co-ops Help Shape EV Planning Tools to Prepare for Grid Impacts

NRECA and its member cooperatives are working with national labs, researchers and other key groups to help shape the planning tools needed to prepare for rising electricity demand as more electric vehicles hit America’s highways.

“We want to make sure that co-ops are prepared for the transition to electric vehicles as it grows at different rates throughout the country,” said Stephanie Crawford, NRECA’s regulatory affairs director.

The La Plata Electric Association in Durango, Colorado, and the Durango School District 9-R worked together to purchase and install the district’s first fully electric school bus and charging infrastructure in 2021. (Photo By: Jenny J Taylor/La Plata Electric Association)

“We want our members to have the tools they need to answer crucial questions around where and when they should expect EV charging infrastructure to be needed.”

Jennah Denney, NRECA’s manager of electric vehicle strategy and solutions, organized two recent webinars featuring federal officials and researchers who are developing tools to smooth the EV transition. A total of nearly 500 electric cooperative employees interested in using—and improving—those tools participated in the webinars to ask questions and offer suggestions.

“Fostering these relationships at the NRECA level helps co-ops have access to these resources to ensure that they have the right programs in place to manage EVs, whether they’re personal vehicles, school buses or the Domino’s EV fleet bringing us pizza on football night,” Denney said.

The first webinar gave co-op leaders a chance to review a tool called the EV U-Finder that the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation is updating to link utilities with businesses, school districts or local transit agencies that are planning to go electric with their car, truck or bus fleets. It’s crucial that fleet operators connect with their co-ops long before they want to begin charging their new EVs, Denney said.

“If they’re only talking to charging providers and haven’t reached out to their co-op early in the planning process, they could be waiting longer for new transformers and infrastructure upgrades,” she said.

A second webinar focused on the Department of Energy’s Caldera simulation tool, which will forecast EV charging demand on the grid. The tool, which is expected to be publicly available by year’s end, would allow utilities, fleet managers and charging companies to prepare for the best way to meet and manage demand.

By getting a preview of the tool, co-op leaders have a chance to help fill in gaps that could make it more useful to rural communities, Crawford said.

“As the government develops these tools, we want to make sure our members’ unique needs and interests are represented,” she said. “We want there to be a two-way conversation, where co-ops have a chance to highlight their specific needs and the government has a chance to ask us questions and get feedback about ways to make their tools better.”

Co-op feedback helped shape a new Rural EV Toolkit recently released by the Department of Transportation. About 60 members of NRECA’s EV consortium of co-op leaders came together in a kind of focus group to make sure the toolkit reflected the realities on the ground in co-op communities, Crawford said.

“It was a great show of co-op interest in EVs, and it highlighted the unique needs of rural areas,” she said. As of this month, the EV consortium had 216 members representing 131 co-ops in 38 states.

For another project, NRECA is represented on the advisory board for the DOE’s EVs@Scale Lab Consortium, which is bringing together national labs and key stakeholders to research ways to overcome barriers to providing high-power EV charging and wireless charging solutions and defending internet-connected EV charging infrastructure against cyberattacks.

NRECA is also represented on the advisory board of the EVs2Scale 2030 initiative by the Electric Power Research Institute. The three-year initiative is a collaboration among more than 500 government agencies and businesses, including Amazon and other companies with large fleets. It aims to prepare the grid to support an accelerated development of EV charging infrastructure and produce tools that utilities can use to plan for the new loads.

Erin Kelly is a staff writer for NRECA.