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Combining Electric Cars with Smart Grid Technology

Credit: Anthill Online

Electric cars are one of the key pieces of the renewable energy economy of the future, but they do come with a few challenges: charging them currently takes a while (30 minutes to a few hours), charging can add considerably to a home’s overall electricity use, and — when scaled up to thousands or millions of homes — that charging places a lot of extra demand on an electrical grid. At the same time, smart grid technology offers two-way information and communication between consumers and providers, allowing the first to better manage their electricity use and costs, and the second to better manage electricity supply. But so far, there hasn’t been much investigation into how smart grid technology could help with electric car charging specifically.

Enter a new demonstration project from the Australian state of Victoria. As part of the Victorian Department of Transport’s Electric Vehicle Trial, the firm DiUS outfitted ten electric-car-owning homes with their ChargeIQ system. The participants could pick “on demand” charging, which works the same way recharging something like an electric razor or drill works — you plug it in, and it immediately starts drawing power. Or they could pick the “smart” charging option, using the ChargeIQ’s smart grid technology to manage the charging of their cars. This would allow them to monitor their charging from a website or a smartphone app, respond to suggestions for the best time to charge, make choices, and react to unanticipated events.

The designers used flexible pricing so participants could respond to peak and off-peak costs, and they were even occasionally hit with simulated events such as an outage due to weather, a demand peak, or a heat wave to see how they’d respond. The result? Participants using the smart grid option cut their charging costs in half, and the electrical utility itself enjoyed less strain and smoother power utilization.

Based on residential electricity tariffs and the project outcomes, Victorian electric vehicle drivers could save around $250 per year, or around 50 per cent on their charging costs, by adopting ‘Smart’ charging practices. Grid-integrated ‘Smart’ charging technology would deliver this saving without sacrifice or effort on their part.

Managing electric vehicle charging at the network level will not only defer costly infrastructure upgrades through peak demand management, but may deliver better returns on existing investments through improved asset utilization. Grid-integrated ‘Smart’ charging technology would deliver these benefits and avoid creation of a ‘second peak’ in electricity demand as drivers individually defer charging to the off-peak period. Importantly, the outcome from these improvements will be lower costs for all electricity consumers – not just those who drive EVs.

“Using ChargeIQ to manage EV charging through the Smart Grid, the project has demonstrated how EVs can be integrated into our electricity networks — easily, conveniently and cheaply,” said Clency Coutet, Director at/of DiUS Computing, arguing for the global relevance of some of the demonstration’s findings.

That said, there were some hiccups. In at least one instance, the ChargeIQ equipment was installed over an unusually far and cluttered distance from the relevant smart meter, making communication between the two devices difficult. In a few instances, decisions from the participants took as long as fifty minutes to transmit to the ChargeIQ station — though the vast majority of the transmissions occurred within a few seconds. This led the project authors to make several recommendations, including the need to formalize practices to ensure the equipment is properly installed and that connectivity issues are responded to promptly.

Another point not mentioned in the report, but worth considering, is that using the ChargeIQ technology involves a lot of internet use. That brings up an economic justice issue, since regular access to computers, smartphone devices, and the internet is often unavailable to people lower down the income ladder.

Of course, identifying such challenges early and getting out ahead of them is what these sorts of preliminary experiments are for. And the dramatic cost reductions are evidence that moving to renewable technology won’t just mean isolated changes to help the climate — it will mean overlapping and reinforcing benefits that end up in people’s pocketbooks.

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Mark Goldes's picture
Mark Goldes on Jun 2, 2013

Future electric cars will have unlimited range and need no external recharge.

They will be mobile power plants, using revolutionary new technology. Super Vehicle to Grid technology, already developed for electric buses, will make possible wireless sale of substantial power to utilities when suitably parked.

It is possible that such cars and even trucks may be able to pay for themselves.

See the AESOP Institute website for a few examples of systems now being born that may make the above scenario practical.

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