At EPRI Labs: Mark Duvall


Director of Energy Utilization

PUF 2.0 - November 15, 2017

EPRI Director of Energy Utilization Mark Duvall explains how his group takes new end use technologies from the laboratory to demonstration as part of EPRI’s efficient electrification R&D.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: How is your R&D group tackling efficient electrification?

Mark Duvall: Our R&D programs are focused on identifying promising electric technologies, those that provide customer and societal benefits, and then moving these technologies along a path of development toward commercial readiness. This includes working with manufacturers to develop promising new electric technologies, performing laboratory testing, and when ready, migrating them into pilot demonstration projects. The results of this work then guide the first commercial applications.

Plug-in electric vehicles are one example of this process. Several years before the Chevrolet Volt hit the market in late 2010, EPRI initiated long term battery testing that helped prove the durability of lithium-ion battery systems. We worked closely with a few automotive manufacturers on the development and real-world testing of PEV prototypes. When General Motors announced the development of the Volt in 2008, EPRI and a large utility collaborative worked closely with them on deployment issues. Everything from infrastructure standards to smart charging to customer education.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: Take an area that will have a big impact on society, and let's talk about what EPRI's been doing there.

Mark Duvall: I'll start with advanced energy communities: that is, zero net energy homes and buildings.

An advanced energy community is any building or collection of buildings that have a highly efficient building envelope. That can mean smart appliances, home energy storage, thermal energy storage, distributed generation, rooftop solar, or electric vehicles in the garage.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: What's so great about using more electricity? Also, is this something that's very futuristic?

Mark Duvall: What is interesting is that our analysis has shown that an all-electric home is not more expensive to build and the monthly utility bills are also about the same. If the homeowner also switches to electric vehicles, then their monthly costs would be even lower.

In California, we're evaluating zero net energy communities in action: one in Fresno and one in Fontana. We worked with the home builders, equipment manufacturers and software companies to install and monitor how these communities are performing, and to ascertain total benefits for consumers. What we have learned is how closely connected efficiency and electrification are for ZNE homes. A very efficient building envelope reduces peak heating and cooling loads, lowering the cost of the rooftop solar system.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: I suppose this is what's required if we're ever going to establish residences as a grid asset.

Mark Duvall: That's part of the R&D - how can these residential structures and customers both rely on and complement grid operations?

If a home is all electric, the peak demand is potentially higher, but you also have more to work with to provide flexibility. Connected appliances, smart inverters, electric vehicles, residential storage. An effective customer-centric system can make decisions on where load can be reduced with impacting the residents, ideally without them even noticing it. Now scale that up to an entire community with dozens of homes and hundreds of residents. Can it become a dependable and effective grid resource?

PUF's Steve Mitnick: Do you expect electric vehicles to become a major part of the equation?

Yes. We think someone will buy an electric car if it's cheaper and better than the car they have now. Our electric transportation R&D is examining many aspects of consumer adoption and the market. Prices continue to come down and manufacturers are introducing more options.

Long term, the market looks strong and will continue to grow. The main signal to look for, in that regard, is automaker investment. It's predominantly in electric powertrain technologies.

Another signal is that globally, countries and manufacturers are placing long-term bets on electric vehicles. Meeting long-term targets for greenhouse gas emissions like those in the Paris Agreement will require the participating countries to almost completely de-carbonize both light-duty and heavy-duty transportation fleets.