It will be years before plug-in vehicles put any sort of strain on the nation’s power grid, but automakers and utility companies are spending a lot of time making sure that electric vehicles won’t overtax the system during peak times.
The emergence of electric vehicles will occur in conjunction with the shift to a smart grid that incorporates wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources while also providing more intelligent load management. Merging the needs of both industries was the topic of a Tuesday morning SAE 2010 World Congress panel, "Smart Grid Technology: Are Electric Vehicles Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?”
Smart grid technologies will take some time to make a significant impact as the many utility companies in the U.S. upgrade to new equipment. The growth of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles will also take a while to make an impact.
Electrified vehicles could be as much as 30% of sales by 2030, said Oliver Hazimeh, Director of e-Mobility Practice at PRTM, a management consulting firm. Though battery technologies and vehicle sales are primary concerns for this industry, recharging is also part of the challenge. “This is not just about cars; we need an end-to-end solution,” he said.
Even that percentage won’t have a significant impact on power consumption. “If every home in our five-state region had a Chevrolet Volt, it would alter our power demand by less than 10% of peak demand,” said Mike Rowand, Director of Advanced Customer Technologies for Duke Energy.
Though the amount of power used by electric vehicles will be small for a while, it could have a big impact if drivers don’t understand that vehicle charging can have a significant impact during peak demand times. Fast charging a vehicle can roughly double the energy demand for a single home, but that demand will be easy to meet if vehicles are recharged overnight during off-peak hours.
Vehicle developers are designing systems that make it easy for owners to charge their vehicles during off-peak times. “Everything about the Volt has been run through our utility collaboration,” said Britta Gross, Director of Global Energy Systems Infrastructure for General Motors. “We want to make sure we put the smarts on the Volt so it’s not increasing peak power demand, so it’s being charged in the off-hours.”
The need for charging stations is another part of the smart-grid issue. Studies in Japan show that having access to fast-charging stations increase electric vehicle usage even when people don’t use the stations, Gross said.
Making sure that drivers don’t need to recharge vehicles often will also impact reliance on these charging stations. In-vehicle technologies will help alleviate range anxiety so drivers don’t have to constantly worry about how much battery life they have left.
“Someone using air-conditioning and driving aggressively will use a lot more energy,” said Sherif Marakby, Chief of Hybrid Engineering for Ford. “Systems will give them feedback like warnings and positive feedback when they’re driving efficiently.”
The focus on multi-industry collaboration may help other industries improve their performance. For example, solar systems now need maintenance for short-lived components. Auto industry suppliers may eventually be able to alter vehicle components for use in solar systems, extending their lifetimes and reducing costs.
“Photovoltaic inverters are a weak point of photovoltaic systems, lasting only three or four years,” said Jeffrey Owens, Vice President of Delphi Corp. “Our vehicle inverters are designed to last 15 years in harsh environments. This technology could help other industries like photovoltaic.”