As more electric vehicles take to the road and Tennessee emerges as a national center of EV battery manufacturing and research, the Knoxville Utilities Board is the first public utility in the nation to try a new technology that will help it prepare for increasing EV charging needs and could save its customers time and money.
The technology will help KUB understand how the adoption of thousands more EVs will affect its power grid in real time.
The analytics software comes from a Colorado-based company called Rhythmos, one of 16 clean energy companies selected by EPRI, the world's leading electricity research nonprofit, to demonstrate technology with utilities across North America.
Rhythmos is analyzing data from 250,000 electricity meters connected to homes and businesses across Knoxville. The software is so precise it will allow KUB to see where and at what time of day EVs are charged so the company can predict electricity needs day-to-day.
Grid modifications needed to accommodate new EV fleets can cost utilities millions of dollars, but Rhythmos says its software allows providers a better understanding of their system to make smarter investing choices and avoid infrastructure overhauls.
Ken Munson, CEO and president of Rhythmos, said the partnership with KUB shows the Tennessee Valley remains a center of innovation in clean energy.
"It's a fantastic win for us and it's a win that once fully deployed can serve as a roadmap for others to follow, not only in the greater Tennessee Valley Authority region, but more broadly across utilities that are struggling throughout North America," Munson told Knox News.
Results from the six-month project will be presented at the EPRI Incubatenergy Labs Demo Day Nov. 1-2 in Vancouver, Canada. Here's how the partnership is making an impact, and where the EV market is headed.
What it could mean for KUB customers using electric cars
KUB purchases its electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority, another collaborator in the project with Rhythmos. That electricity is transported from TVA plants through miles of transmission lines to substations, then to feeder lines, which bring it to neighborhood transformers that step the voltage down and distribute it to meters at homes and businesses.
A key to decarbonizing the grid and preparing for more EV charging stations is to use software capable of analyzing the flow at every point in the distribution system, Munson said. That way, providers like KUB can better locate pressure points to know where the grid could fail.
At-home EV charging stations draw more power than appliances and heating and cooling units. At their peak power draw, Munson said they can put as much stress on a transformer as an entire home. For transformers designed to serve only five to seven homes, problems stack up quickly as neighbors and family members encourage each other to go electric.
By showing KUB which transformers might need greater capability at what time of day, Rhythmos could help the utility avoid power loss.
For customers hoping to purchase an EV, that could mean shorter wait times for installing an at-home charging station, which can take months if utilities must determine where infrastructure updates are needed. The up-front cost of an at-home charger often runs over $1,000. KUB is offering a $400 rebate on newly installed EV chargers to customers who apply by Dec. 31. Those interested must fill out the application within 60 days of installation.
Additionally, KUB publishes information on its electricity rates, including rates for EVs.
The simplest benefit to customers is potentially lower service fees down the road. Rhythmos uses data from a geographic information system and KUB's outage management system to show where EVs are charged and the risk they pose to the grid. The company also analyzes the wholesale energy market to show utilities the least expensive times for EV charging.
If KUB knows where EVs in Knoxville are and can anticipate where power will be needed, customers will not have to help cover expensive infrastructure updates and more Knoxville residents will be able to start charging an EV sooner.
“By deploying Rhythmos’ software, we gain powerful insight into our customers’ needs so that we are better prepared to manage EV charging loads. This deployment signifies a step toward a more intelligent and responsive energy grid," said Mathew Stinnett, manager of electric engineering at KUB.
Stinnett said in a press release that KUB was working toward reducing costs for EV stations and providing EV charging incentives to residential customers. The company's work extends to electrification of commercial vehicles.
Tennessee is leading EV manufacturing, but not adoption
In a rush to build more EVs and compete with Tesla, the top seller of electric cars, several automakers are building giant manufacturing plants in Tennessee. Ford, in partnership with South Korean company SK On, is at work on a $5.6 billion manufacturing plant called BlueOval City, which it says will bring 5,800 new jobs to the town of Stanton. Production of electric trucks at the plant is scheduled to begin in 2025.
Ultium Cells, a partnership between GM and South Korean company LG Energy Solutions, will begin production later this year at a $2.3 billion, 2.8-million-square-foot EV battery plant expected to add 1,300 new jobs.
Thanks to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Knoxville region is emerging as a hub of EV research into making the vehicles safer and more efficient. The lab announced earlier this month that researchers had developed an EV battery material that recharges 80% in only 10 minutes.
A recent report from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy found Tennessee is a national leader in EV manufacturing, but lagged in customer adoption of EVs. While 9.3% of all new light-duty vehicles purchased nationwide in the second quarter of 2023 were electric, that figure was only around 4% in Tennessee. Southeast utilities, the report said, trail the national average of $75 invested in EV transition per customer. The report tracked data for investor-owned utilities, which do not include public utilities like KUB and TVA.
Still, the pair are bucking a regional trend by investing in preparation for greater EV adoption.
"KUB is stepping out as a leader, I believe, and TVA more broadly, in this area to really drive electric vehicle adoption," Munson said of the partnership with Rhythmos. "It's kind of a countertrend of what that report shows ... they are a leader and this is a great opportunity to showcase that leadership."
The report found six states in the southeast – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – accounted for 40% of EV manufacturing investment and 35% of EV jobs across the U.S.
Tennessee is among the states with the most EV-related jobs announced, at 12,719 jobs, and led the region in adding EV charging ports.
EV sales in the six states grew by 50% this year, from 312,316 vehicles to 469,602 vehicles. The most popular EV models were made by Tesla, which accounted for more than half of all EV sales in the region, followed by the Chevy Bolt, Ford Mustang Mach-E and F150 Lightning.
Daniel Dassow is a reporting intern focusing on trending and business news. Phone 423-637-0878. Email email@example.com.
Support strong local journalism by subscribing at knoxnews.com/subscribe
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: KUB first public utility to use high-tech analytics for EV readiness