Plugging Electric Vehicles into the Smart Grid

Posted on September 1st, 2011 by

Today, electric vehicles (EVs) are starting to play an important role in our country’s transition towards a cleaner energy future. The primary advantage of EVs is the ability to replace petroleum fuel-based engines with highly efficient electric motors – offering consumers clean energy alternatives, including plug-in electric vehicles.

With vehicles like the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt creating mass markets for EVs in the United States, nearly every major automotive manufacturer has announced plans to deliver an EV model within the next three years. Federal funding is spurring investment in EV technology and pilot projects to initiate the roll-out of EV charging infrastructure. Equally as important, large corporations are committing to EV conversion for their fleets and employee base; such as FedEx Express which recently announced plans to double its fleet of fuel efficient vehicles. Also industry analysts project anywhere from 600,000 to 1.2 million EVs on road in the U.S. by 2015. Considering these factors, widespread adoption seems imminent…

But is there a missing link?

Building the EV charging infrastructure is the first step in encouraging mass adoption of EVs.

This year, electric vehicle charging stations within residential, commercial, and fleet applications are being installed in tens of thousands of locations across the country and this is just the start. Pike Research forecasts that 4.7 million electric vehicle charge points will be installed worldwide with an estimated 974,000 charge points to be installed in the U.S. from 2010 to 2015.

Installations of “Level 2” charging stations are the most ubiquitous. A Level 2 charger requires 240V/40A circuit similar to that of an electric clothes dryer or central air conditioner and will top off an EV battery in a few hours. What is often referred to as Level 3, now called “DC Fast Charging” can charge 80 percent of an EV battery in less than one half an hour and requires a 480V/120A circuit.  With these power levels you can begin to see the challenges ahead for utilities as mass deployment of EV charging stations is a key driver for mass adoption of EVs.

So what does that mean for the grid?

As charging infrastructure is put into use and EV adoption spikes, another critical component to the success of EVs will be achieved by tapping into the smart grid.

The expansion of EVs plugging in to the electric grid will continue to add increased load to the grid. However, despite the increased need for electricity, according to Pike Research, the added demand of EVs will have minimal impact on grid reliability. This is a result of the smart grid and smart EV charging solutions, which will enable utilities and end users to handle this surge in demand through more intelligent energy management.

Smart grid enabled EV charging infrastructure will mitigate the stress of added load from EVs by providing more open communication between end users and utilities, enabling both to get better control over intelligent energy management when it comes to charging EVs.

A user could opt to participate in a load management program through their utility, which would allow the utility to temporarily switch off EV charging based on peak demand, shedding the load within certain parameters of the program.  In the future, tying vehicle-to-grid (V2G) has a great potential of solving some of the fundamental grid energy storage problems that exist today, and further enabling utilities and consumers to mitigate load constraints.

This is a critical time in the development of the technology for EVs and charging infrastructure. Smart grid enabled EV charging infrastructure and the intelligent energy management practices it enables will play an integral role in driving adoption of EVs and easing their transition onto our electrical grid.

Additionally, partnerships across industries, consumers and policy makers will also be a key aspect in advancing EV adoption by establishing consensus for a standardization roadmap that supports the safe mass deployment of EVs. Through initiatives such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)’s Electric Vehicles Standards Panel (EVSP), as a community, we can collaborate on the development of EV solutions that are effective, efficient, safe and economically beneficial for the U.S.

Written by Donald Rickey, Senior Vice President, Energy Business, Schneider Electric


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