Integrating EVs into the smart grid of the future

 In Inside FleetCarma

The following editorial by Ted Kristsonis at MediaPlanet, featured an interview with Matthew Stevens, CEO and Co-founder of FleetCarma’s parent company CrossChasm Technologies, and appeared in the Engineering & Infrastructure Special Report in the National Post on March 2nd, 2012.

Integrating EVs into the smart grid of the future

Electric vehicles are hailed as a game changer for transportation and the environment. However, utilizing the car of the future with today’s infrastructure presents significant challenges.

How we made it

The promise of electric cars is that they could make a lasting impact on the environment, but once they reach critical mass, there remains uncertainty over how millions of electric cars could affect the power grid in the future.

Electric and hybrid vehicles are still in an early adopter phase, and their merits in reducing greenhouse gases have been widely reported. Matthew Stevens, principal at CrossChasm Technologies, a Waterloo, ON-based firm that works with the automakers and fleet operators, suggests that the biggest impact could be on the grid.

“What’s interesting about electric vehicles is that they are both an incredible opportunity for the grid and an incredible risk,” says Stevens. “Electric vehicles, by and large, are charged at night, and they won’t need the entire time they’re plugged in to draw power. The risk is in trying to charge them quickly. A Quick Charge, which is a 50-kilowatt load for 20 minutes, is equivalent to a small subdivision’s consumption.”

Zapping the resources

Assuming that 1,000 cars were Quick Charging at the same time, it would amount to 50 megawatts, an enormous strain on top of existing demand on the grid, he adds.

Electric vehicles can be charged in three different ways. Level 1 is a standard 1.5-kilowatt 110-volt plug common everywhere, taking up to 12 hours to fully charge a Chevrolet Volt’s battery, for example. Level 2 is a unique 3.5-kilowatt plug that would require Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) be installed in a home or garage first. That uses a home’s basic 220-volt line, equal to four simultaneous hair dryers, cutting charging time down to three hours.

Handling hydro needs

It’s the Level 3, or Quick Charge option, that is most disconcerting because of how taxing it is. Moreover, a consumer who actually had one at home would be hit with a monstrous hydro bill. For the moment, Stevens says, the first two levels are the only ones that make any sense for homes, especially when the cost is reasonable.

“A Volt has a battery capacity just under 11 kilowatt hours, and assuming you fill that up from empty every single night in a month, do the math and you would see it’s considerably cheaper than what gasoline costs these days,” he says.

As an example, 40 electric cars plugged in for 12 hours at night on one street, all using Level 2 EVSE chargers, only need four hours each to charge, he explains. The utility could stagger them so that only 13 are charging at once, thus helping take pressure off the grid.

“The question is whether the utility company needs to know a Level 2 EVSE has been installed because of its potential impact on the grid at night, or if they even own that plug,” he says.

Addressing existing infrastructure

Stevens points this out as one of the issues the industry is looking to address, particularly since so few homes currently have EVSE plugs installed. But he notes that the distribution of electricity for the vehicles leads to another “massive debate” on who will actually have the ability to sell the power to consumers in the first place.

Hydro utilities in Canada are typically regulated geographic monopolies. Selling electricity requires a retailer’s license and permission to charge a certain rate. If gas stations are to ultimately convert to power stations, they would need to apply as electricity retailers, unless the government opts to mandate utilities as the sole providers.

“The utilities would deploy where it’s best for the grid, while private companies would deploy where it’s best for their bottom line,” he says. “Quick Charge stations would have the biggest impact on the grid, so it makes sense that utilities deploy them where they’re best for the local grid. Third-parties would put them wherever the market wants them, but where it’s best for the market may not be best for the grid.”


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