Solutions for timely interconnection to speed the transition to electric trucks

By Casey Horan 

Transportation electrification is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, with nine states adopting the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which requires manufacturers to produce increasing amounts of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. There are more pathways than ever for MHDV fleets to electrify, as state and federal programs like those within the Inflation Reduction Act are incentivizing the transition by way of grants, rebates and financing.  

To accommodate the vast amount of MHDEVs gearing up to electrify and help fleets get on the road faster, states can take advantage of a range of available solutions to address existing barriers. For example, one of the biggest challenges utilities face is timely interconnection, i.e., connection to the distribution grid, with fleets that require more capacity facing multi-year delays in some states. 

By addressing these interconnection challenges, states can speed deployment of EV charging infrastructure and support electrification goals, which in turn reduces risk and costs for both fleets and utilities while optimizing existing grid infrastructure. In this three-part blog series, we will explore potential policy and technical solutions available to help including: hybrid interconnection; flexible interconnection and ramped connection. We start with hybrid interconnection, a near-term policy solution that can be used to accelerate the process for fleets to bring chargers, distributed generation and storage into service together.  

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Why are interconnection delays problematic?

Interconnection backlogs are problematic for fleets because they exacerbate risk and uncertainty in the planning and investment process. Fleet electrification involves significant upfront costs, and upgrades need to be completed on a timeline that aligns with fleets receiving new vehicles. Recently, some fleet owners have been forced to leave brand new MHDEVs to sit parked in warehouses while they wait for chargers to be connected to the grid. The lag between deployment and interconnection can also jeopardize fleets’ long-term funding, permits and dissuade fleets from investing further in EVs. States can help fleets get on the road faster by re-evaluating the business-as-usual approach to interconnection.  

Normally, fleets seeking to connect new solar, storage and chargers to the grid must submit an interconnection request for each project component to their utility. Utilities tend to review each resource separately because different departments usually handle different project components, which can increase the time it takes for the project to fully come online. This means the project applicant may have to coordinate between departments that do not regularly communicate with each other. The utility will then conduct a series of assessments to evaluate grid impacts and project feasibility before executing an interconnection agreement. Projects also tend to be evaluated based on their total theoretical loads, regardless of the project’s actual demands on the grid. With hybrid resources and distributed energy resources, utilities tend to take a more conservative approach because it’s difficult to estimate load requirements for variable energy resources. These factors can all add delays, and, there is no guarantee that a project will break ground. In fact, project completion rates are low, in large part due to developers losing funding or permits before reaching the interconnection agreement stage.   

There is a range of policy and technical solutions to address grid constraints and make interconnection timelier and more efficient in the near term. As a first step, states can address inefficiencies in the overall process by facilitating hybrid interconnection.  

Hybrid interconnectionas a near-term policy solution

A fleet owner interested in electrifying will likely need to consider cost-effective ways to manage both its charging needs and upfront expenses. An increasingly popular way to do this is to use hybrid resources, like combined solar panels and battery storage with EV charging. Still, fleets may face extra delays in deploying multiple resources due to the need to make separate interconnection requests for each project component. Hybrid interconnection could streamline the process by allowing customers with combined charging, solar, storage and other distributed energy resources to file a single interconnection request.  

Streamlining combined resources into service through hybrid interconnection could help reduce costs for fleets and allow utilities to avoid unnecessary grid upgrades. Fleets benefit by maximizing power security, decreasing charging costs and reducing their overall energy usage. Utilities also benefit from the addition of valuable grid assets and improved load profile. For example, a recent GNA study commissioned by EDF demonstrated that, while current and emerging technology is ready to meet the challenge of electrification, combined resources like solar and storage with managed EV charging can help bring down costs and energy usage requirements for fleets. Decreasing fleet energy requirements through combined resources and managed charging can also reduce the amount of utility investment required to serve the fleet, benefiting all utility customers. Moreover, the fleets in the GNA study were able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual electric costs and significantly reduce their load requirements. Fleets could also save by consolidating costs for equipment, interconnection and permitting. 

The benefits of hybrid interconnection go beyond the interconnection process as an integral part of the ongoing grid evolution. At the federal level, the recent FERC Order 2023 broadly aims to address interconnection queue backlogs, improve certainty and prevent undue discrimination for new technologies. FERC Order 2023 also requires Regional Transmission Organizations to allow for hybrid interconnections and encourages them to consider flexible interconnections in the transmission context. The order states, “The final rule requires transmission providers to use operating assumptions in interconnection studies that reflect the proposed charging behavior of electric storage resources.” 

For states, these principles can be translated to DERs, buildings and behind-the-meter solutions. Hybrid interconnection can help states alleviate delays for fleets while simultaneously keeping costs down for all stakeholders. Finally, hybrid interconnection could create more opportunities for utilities to deploy technical solutions like flexible interconnection and ramped connection to harness the vast amount of DERs coming online.  

States must prioritize getting the grid ready for widespread transportation electrification as quickly as possible. Using hybrid interconnection, states can address process-side delays while reducing costs and time for customers, utilities and energy transition.   

Casey Horan is a legal fellow for zero-emission transportation at EDF.

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