LADWP’s David Jacot on EV Market Growth & Solar’s Potential

Headshot of David Jacot

According to a new Transmission Plan from CAISO, California will invest $9.3 billion in 46 transmission projects, which will enable more than 17GW of solar generation to be added to the grid. On the topic of solar energy in Los Angeles, David Jacot, the Director of Efficiency Solutions at LADWP, argues that electric vehicles could act as an untapped source of power for the city, while stressing the importance of a coordinated effort to implement solar power battery storage citywide. In this VX News interview, Jacot highlights some of the innovative rebates, pilots, and research through LADWP to increase adoption of solar resources in the City of Los Angeles.

What is your assessment of DWP’s ability to keep up with the market growth in EVs and EV charging? What challenges does such growth pose for DWP?


David Jacot: W­e're seeing that electric vehicles will add a substantial load to our annual retail of gigawatt hours. The potential top end, at 100 percent transformation of the light duty vehicle fleet in Los Angeles, essentially doubles the amount of gigawatt hours we would be pushing to our grid on an annual basis.

Now that's a long-ways off because there's still a h­uge existing fleet of gasoline cars, but adoption is up about 50 percent every year over the last six years. We are the leading EV city in the country.

A couple things come to mind, but the first is we've already made spare capacity on our grid through our diligent, consistent, and effective energy efficiency programs over the last 10 years. We've managed to reduce the systemwide consumption by 15 percent, about 3500 gigawatt hours. That has freed up a lot of existing capacity and given us a buffer for EVs to come onto our system en masse. Five years ago, electric vehicles were static on the system; they were hardly noticeable. Now it's measurable, and because of the extra capacity for energy efficiency, it hasn't caused a systemwide supply crunch or any distribution issues.

Going forward, we know that buffer is getting thinner as we get more EVs on the system. We're continuing energy efficiency at the same, if not an accelerated, pace we have for the last decadebut it won't be enough. It's a good start, and it's given us a leg up on early EV adoption, but it won't be enough. So, the department has a number of initiatives underway to meet that.


Elaborate on what those LADWP initiatives are...


Parallel to all this, we have to decarbonize the grid by 2035, per the LA100 commitment. There are two things going on: we are shifting our generation resources to non-carbon resources; at the same time, we are expecting an increase in demand from EV charging.

In order to satisfy the new load through the existing system as much as possible, the most important piece is the timing. We can't have EV charging peak at the same time we reach our traditional peak, which is in the four to nine PM range these days. We have enough capacity in the wires as long as we are not trying to sustain both energy consumption peaks at once.

Another big effort underway is to increase the voltage rating for our transmission lines. It is almost impossible to site new transmission corridors, especially in a built-up, urbanized area, so we have to make the most of the existing transmission corridors. Our ongoing effort is to double the voltage capacity of those lines, allowing us to harness that much more power through them.


David, in addition to energy efficiency and EV rebate processing; share with readers your entire LADWP portfolio of responsibilities.


I oversee the Energy Efficiency programs. I also oversee the rebate processing for electric vehicles at the moment, which is key to supporting the growth of the charging network in Los Angeles.

The rebates that LADWP offers for electric vehicles are quite robust: $4,000 for commercial chargers, $5000 if they're in a disadvantaged community. This rebate, robust enough to cover the cost of the charger and the installation, enables contractors to approach their customersentering commercial enterprises, large multifamily buildings, or otherwise—to offer the chargers for free, and then, a maintenance and service contract to manage those chargers on behalf of the apartment owner or commercial owner.

This has established a sustainable business model, characterized by self-perpetuation and runaway growth, for the third-party contractors that install chargers. We've installed about 30,000 electric vehicle chargers through our programs, and our goal is to have 120,000 by 2030. At the pace we've been going, we will likely meet that goal several years early. There might be opportunity, and certainly interest, to go beyond that.


LA’s Cleantech Incubator (LACI) was founded by the City of LA and LADWP to unlock innovation in the Green Economy by working with startups to accelerate the commercialization of clean technologies. Elaborate on LADWP’s and your working relationship with LACI.


Yes, I want to call-out the La Kretz Cleantech Incubator, where the engineering team for efficiency solutions resides. We do a lot of emerging technologies work and support the companies that are in the incubator or have graduated from the incubator.

This is key because we're trying to grow a green ecosystem in Los Angeles, which goes beyond just energy efficiency. It gets into distributed charging, distributed net zero buildings, and, to highlight a particular example, transitional housing.

We’ve been working with several companies in a consortium to develop a transitional housing option for people experiencing homelessness. The idea is to create modular housing units that fold flat, fit 12 to a truck, and can be assembled on-site in two hours or less. We have the ability to make them zero net energy with on-site solar canopies and storage, so they can even be built without being connected to a grid. They're very durable and come with a 10-year warranty.

The idea is that they would act as a bridge between temps, shelters, and permanent supportive housing. The residents would stay for as long as necessary to line up permanent supportive housing.

Then, the space would be open for new residents to move in. That cycle can be repeated in a transitional fashion. This is something that has come together just in the last four months. We're very excited about it and have been making it visible.

Actually, on the stage of Governor Newsom’s homelessness event in Sacramento last week, they were one of two companies present and profiled. So, this is just one example of the kind of innovation that can grow from the La Kretz Cleantech Incubator. The relevancy of this project is immense, especially when you consider LA’s new Mayor and her Executive Directive 1, accelerating solutions to the homelessness crisis in the city. This is a ready-made part of the solution. We ultimately want permanent supportive housing for everyone, but this is a great transitional strategy to help move people off the streets and get them support services.

There is also a blanket permit approval from Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) for these setups, especially if they can operate independent of grid connection. It is really exciting to see how quickly scalable this transitional solution could be.


Let’s pivot to distributed energy role in meeting LA’s energy efficiently goals. What innovations that you currently monitoring?


We have the most installed customer solar in the country, with about 600 megawatts of installed solar.

Some of that has battery storage, but not nearly enough. I'm thinking programmatically about what needs to be done to optimize earlier investments.

One way is to heavily promote the incorporation of battery storage into existing solar systems currently functioning without it. This is key because we have a lot of solar generation in the afternoon, and as the sun goes down, our evening peak comes in because we lose all that solar power. So, the idea is to store that solar energy in the afternoon and use that to serve the evening demands.

Another thing we need to do, programmatically, is tie these programs into multi-resource offerings, so customers know all of their options when they are starting out. We had a brief solar program during the California Solar Initiative days, which ended in 2016. We didn't have a battery storage program then, and so today, our solar systems still do not have battery storage. Some customers have taken the initiative to add battery storage, but it hasn't been the coordinated effort it needs to be.

Consequently, we are piloting a consolidated, coordinated, distributed energy resource approach through our Comprehensive Affordable Multifamily Retrofits program, which we call CAMR. This program targets low-income multifamily units for deep decarbonization through energy efficiency, electrification, and on-site solar through our Community Solar and Virtual Net Energy Metering Program. It wraps all those offerings into a single program where the focus is on disadvantaged communities and workforce development.

We’ve ensured that our rebates are robust enough to require customers to hire contractors who uphold the trades’ rules of a level playing field, since a primary goal of this program is to create skilled, family-supporting jobs for the local and regional workforce. We want to create these jobs through the deployment of distributed energy resources, electrification, and decarbonization initiatives throughout the city.


For context, What's value and potential of municipal utilities like DWP?


I'm a big believer in the municipal utility model, now that I've been here for nearly 11 years. We have a lot more flexibility than investor-owned utilities. There, they are investor-owned and the equity side is dominated by Wall Street considerations. We are customer-owned by the citizens of Los Angeles. We still have a bond rating that we aim to protect since with it, we gain favorable bargaining power of Wall Street’s interest rates. However, we are not beholden to Wall Street on the equity side. We don’t have the whole Wall Street shareholder issue.

On another note, investor-owned utilities are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, which, due to the bureaucratic nature of the CPUC, creates an arduous and slow-moving process for any potential changes and innovations. Municipal utilities are not regulated by the CPUC. We are overseen by our board, by City Council, and by the Mayor's office. We have local control, so we can do things much more quickly and much more nimbly from a policy standpoint.

Adding to that, LADWP is uniquely positioned in this space because we have the flexibility of being a municipally-owned utility, but we also have scale, being the size of an investor-owned utility. We're bigger than San Diego Gas and Electric, as a matter of fact, the third biggest electric utility in the state.


Over the last 10 to 15 years, LADWP’s policy-makers have been eager to set stretch goals; but, it falls to managers like yourself to achieve these goals. What management challenges keep you up at night?


When it comes to policy, we have nimbleness as a utility, less so when it comes to the bureaucratic or administrative sides. This, however, is not unique to LADWP. The investor-owned utilities have this to a certain degree as well.

We will often get a mandate to do something, then the next day: what's the status? Why isn't it done yet? These are the administrative challenges around hiring, contracting, and frankly, space.

Another challenge, although it is not insurmountable and we actually have some fun with it, is the rotating leadership that counterbalance the staff here at the utility. I've been here 11 years, and I'm a newbie. A lot of folks have been here 25-30 plus years.

When you look at our board, our elected council, our mayor, they swap out fairly frequently. We have a new mayor now, who has so far been really great, very supportive. We appreciate the continuity of her building off the same sustainability policies of the previous mayor. Still, there is new staff, especially in the Council offices. While they certainly have ideas we want to hear, we often find ourselves revisiting discarded ideas, explaining faults in their plans, and imagining solutions together. It is an ongoing education process with the elected leadership of the city, but while this is a challenge, it’s something we've adapted to.


Returning to the electric grid’s capacity to achieve stretch goals, are you promising there'll be no blackouts over the next five years in LA?


I can’t promise anything, but we'll try to avoid blackouts.

I do want to add to my earlier answer on this one. I did mention upgrading transmission capacity, which is for utility generation outside of the base. Equally important is upgrading the distributed energy resource element within the city where folks generate their own electricity and have their own storage. That’s where we can exercise flexibility, demand management, and charge electric vehicles outside of peak hours. We are developing this complex system to function as a well-oiled machine in the future.

The exciting space now is getting to vehicle-to-grid. Here, electric vehicles would have the ability to soak up solar energy in the afternoon, discharge its spare power to the grid in the evening, and recharge overnight. Essentially, electric vehicles could function as an enormous battery for the city. This is a very complicated system to manage, but if we get it right, it will significantly reduce our chances of having rolling outages due to excess peak demands.


Are you suggesting that the promise of vehicle-to-grid will obviate DWP’s need to address the duck curve?


It would help tremendously as, likely, the largest single resource that could be quickly deployed. It would be even faster than getting stationary batteries built into existing solar systems, although we need that too.

To have this quantity of electric vehicles already online in the city is a tremendous resource for us, especially when you consider the goal of 100 percent electric vehicles in Los Angeles. By 2035, all new vehicles in California must be electric. By that point, we're probably looking at 75 percent share of electric vehicles; which would present a huge aggregate battery, fitting to help us keep the lights on in an affordable manner.


Before closing, address the potential for solar growth in Los Angeles and California?


I think there's still tremendous potential for solar in California, especially on the residential rooftop level and in apartment buildings. Our Virtual Net Energy Metering Pilot is designed to help apartments make an economic project out of rooftop solar by sharing the benefits between the tenants and the building owner.

One thing that did come out of the last seven or eight years of rooftop solar was discovering that these enormous warehouses in the Inland Empire have less potential than originally thought. They have huge square footage, but are so lightly built that they would require a seismic upgrade to support that much solar infrastructure on the roof. It was estimated around 500 megawatts were going to be coming out of the Inland Empire, but that got truncated to around 125, maybe 250. In that respect, solar has challenges; but you won’t typically encounter this issue when dealing with individual house rooftop solar.

The other thing is solar needs to be paired with storage. The idea of just launching another solar initiative, like Million Solar Roofs, of solar without storage is an unproductive model for California, it has to have storage.

“We are the leading EV city in the country. Electric vehicles could function as an enormous battery for the city, and if we get it right, it will significantly reduce our chances of having rolling outages due to excess peak demands.”—David Jacot