Apoorv Bhargava is the CEO of WeaveGrid.
The Edison Electric Institute held EEI 2023 in Austin and brought together industry stakeholders from all over the United States. The consensus is that the electric industry's transformation to low and then to zero-carbon electricity must include technological advancements to get there. That is why technology leaders also attended and brought their solutions with them. Public Utilities Fortnightly presents conversations with innovators, where high tech meets energy tech to allow resilient clean energy to be delivered to utility customers.
PUF's Steve Mitnick: Give some background on you, your organization, and its mission. Why the name WeaveGrid?
Apoorv Bhargava: WeaveGrid tells the story of the company's purpose. WeaveGrid is trying to weave together two industries, electric utilities and automotive, which have been operating separately for over a century.
I met my co-founder, John Taggart, during graduate school at Stanford. While my experience was working with utilities during my time in the BCG power and utilities practice and then at OPower, he had worked on the automotive side at Tesla.
When the two of us met, we knew there was something we could do at the center of these two industries that are now in a radical moment of change.
You've got one going through an S-curve toward carbon-free resources and one on an S-curve toward electric vehicles. Electrification, by definition, means these two systems must start talking to one another.
From day one, our vision has been to build a partnership and a technological system that allows us to break down the digital silos that exist between the automotive industry and the utility industry to address the potential pain points that experts told us would be coming.
PUF: What are you bringing in that's differentiated, and especially impactful?
Apoorv Bhargava: As Bill Gates and Elon Musk have said on stage here at the EEI conference, EVs are going to grow exponentially. They often add a power load of seven to fifteen kilowatts per vehicle.
As that happens, that exponential growth is going to put tremendous pressure on the electric grid, particularly the downstream distribution aspects, like secondary service and transformers. It's also going to force a re-architecting of the electric grid.
WeaveGrid's focus is on working directly with utilities, automakers, charging companies, and EV drivers to address the distribution impacts of EV charging.
This new EV load will be added where the infrastructure has already been built but not sized for it. We're helping the industry to be more proactive by leveraging the software that connects utility and automotive systems to keep the electric grid affordable and reliable amidst electrification.
PUF: What are you offering to the market and who are the customers? Are they utilities? Are they end-use customers, or both?
Apoorv Bhargava: We are a software company that works closely with utility partners. Our utility partners include Exelon, PG&E, Xcel Energy, DTE, and Portland General Electric.
Our software platform works closely with the utilities' IT and OT systems. We provide program experience for utilities' EV-driving customers. At the same time, we've built a partnership model where we integrate with automotive and charging hardware companies to collect data and communicate with vehicles or charging stations to actively manage charging.
Managed charging is a verb. It's an action, it's what you do; It's not what you achieve. EVs are first and foremost somebody's mobility.
Any kind of load-management strategy must integrate the customer's mobility needs alongside a portfolio of grid resources. At our core, we're building an integrated framework that can co-optimize a customer's mobility choices and their energy choices. We can then manage that car's charging to address the challenges to distribution infrastructure as large-scale electrification takes off.
PUF: What's the experience thus far? You mentioned Xcel Energy, PG&E, and Portland General Electric.
Apoorv Bhargava: It's been wonderful. We've had a great time working with our partners in the utility and automotive sectors.
On the utility side, the experience has often started with customer programs, where utilities launch new offerings by giving EV drivers an incentive to share data and control their charging.
The results show that our software is effective at shifting charging to low-cost times. And we do it in a way where customers' cars are fully charged when they need them.
For customers participating in WeaveGrid-supported utility programs, we've seen the customer experience with the utility radically change. Customers' perceptions of their utility improve.
Once customers get an electric vehicle, they stop thinking about the gas station down the road.
They now only think about their utility bill. A customer program that provides some small incentive says to the customer, we value you.
We have also seen that the new data streams we are providing when combined with other data sources, like AMI, can be powerful for utilities. We have heard from our utility partners about our products being tremendously helpful for their integrated resource plan or distribution system plan.
PUF: How big can this be? What's the upside for WeaveGrid?
Apoorv Bhargava: We're already supporting utility programs with thousands of cars across different service territories. We run some of the largest and most sophisticated managed charging programs in the country.
We've launched a product called DISCO, which stands for Distribution Integrated Smart Charging Orchestration. DISCO, in our view, is set up to solve operational challenges with the distribution system.
To date, EV load-management strategies have focused on telling customers to shut off their cars' charging when the bulk system has got an emergency. As adoption increases, there will be EV load at peak times, but it is much less than many utilities expect because most customers aren't charging during system peaks.
The challenges we hear our utility partners highlight are almost entirely distribution system-focused, and the distribution needs will be largely non-coincident with the bulk system. Because in the middle of the night when everyone's charging and suddenly a neighborhood transformer is overloaded, a utility's bulk system is often at the lowest point in its utilization.
There's a lot of value in being able to orchestrate EV charging with distribution concerns in mind, and it can be done in a way that EV customers hardly notice.
PUF: You used terms, the most sophisticated, and DISCO. What makes you feel justified using powerful terms?
Apoorv Bhargava: Our platform is purpose-built. We've been fortunate to have utility partners who are designing programs to leverage our platform.
We built WeaveGrid for electric vehicles. We didn't have a load management tool that we were using for hot water heaters that we said, "Let's force fit electric vehicles into that."
At the same time, many automakers are grappling with the experience of not knowing how to talk to three thousand utilities around the country with different systems, regulations, and voltages. We focused on building a platform for a world with thirty percent or more penetration of electric vehicles.
We've been intentional about building for the future. We thought, "What are the products we need to deliver to our customers today that give them the most value at the lowest cost? Then what are the products and services we need to do tomorrow?"
What we have are a series of customers that span that spectrum and allow us to test sophisticated solutions to a variety of problems. In California, utilities and their customers are dealing with challenges like circuits that are already overloaded because of high EV adoption.
We've got utilities on the east coast gearing up for that large influx of EVs as a more supportive policy is coming in. We've got utilities in the midwest, such as Xcel Energy, with abundant wind energy resources.
The program we're supporting there matches wind energy forecasts with the electric vehicle charging that's happening in the middle of the night. We're bringing together utilities and automakers to charge at the best times, while doing it in ways that work for EV drivers.
PUF: Where are you going to be in five years?
Apoorv Bhargava: My hope in five years is that we're serving millions of electric vehicle drivers across lots of utilities and supported by several major automotive partners. We are here to be a trusted partner to two industries in a pivotal moment, an inflection, in some sense.
Success is continuing what we're doing, expanding into areas like commercial charging. It's delivering an affordable, reliable, and cleaner grid, but also driving decarbonization in transportation. We have this collective opportunity to take sixty percent of emissions attributed to transportation and electricity and push them down toward zero.
Over the next five years, that's when a lot of these forecasts are suggesting this starts to go exponential. I'm hoping in five years we've grown alongside our partners at utilities and automotive companies, and we see the grid challenges as ones we're collectively solving.
EEI 2023 conversations at fortnightly.com: