Smart charging and the power of pain
News about electric vehicles (EV) has been coming fast and furious in the past few days.
For instance, on March 30, Nissan announced the sticker price for its Leaf EV — $32,780 before government incentives. (Early in March Nissan said it would ramp up the global production capacity for the Leaf from the current reported 50,000 to 500,000 units a year in 2012.)
The next day, Ford and Microsoft announced they were teaming up to integrate smart charging into Microsoft’s Hohm energy management system. Microsoft says Hohm will help drivers to determine the best time to charge their vehicle. “Ford and Microsoft will deliver a solution that will make it easier for car owners to make smart decisions about the most affordable and efficient ways to recharge electric vehicles, while giving utilities better tools for managing the expected changes in energy demand,” stated Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO.
And the same day, Ford was providing test drives of its new Transit Connect commercial van, which the company says will use $2 to $3 worth of electricity to cover its 80-mile range, compared to $12 to fuel the gasoline version of the same van over the same range.
But as interesting and important as those developments were, they overshadowed another announcement on April 1 (no fooling) that ultimately might have much broader ramifications. Namely, in its supremely wonky, pocket-protected style, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) re-designated its arcane-sounding standard, P1809, with the even-more arcane designation “P2030.1.”
Ho hum, right? Actually, not so much.
By re-designating P1809 — which was IEEE’s “draft standard addressing electric-sourced transportation infrastructure” — the organization officially moved its work on EV standards into the realm of the smart grid. It might seem subtle, but it’s a major shift in focus for EV technology stakeholders worldwide. IEEE is developing P2030.1 for use by utilities, manufacturers, infrastructure developers and end users, and thus arguably is creating the technical roadmap for EVs to roll onto roadways—and plug into utility systems—around the world.
“We believe this move will foster a more coordinated, integrated relationship between [IEEE’s EV and smart-grid standards efforts], sparking new smart-grid technology innovation and development,” stated Siri Jodha Khasla, chair of IEEE’s Standards Coordinating Committee.
IEEE’s announcement comes at an opportune time in the smart-grid standards process. These standards have advanced significantly in the past year, and in recent months the U.S. federal government has taken a leadership role by forming a governing board for the U.S. Commerce Department’s stimulus-funded Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), under the auspices of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
John McDonald, who chairs the SGIP governing board and serves as general manager of marketing for GE’s T&D division, told Fortnightly magazine in a phone call on March 31, “We [NIST’s SGIP] are looking at priority action plans for electric vehicles. It’s something we’re discussing right now,” he said. “And at GE we’re looking at Japanese standards, as part of our work to develop smart-charging technology.”
McDonald pointed out that smart-charging standards might get a significant boost sooner rather than later, as EV drivers begin causing pain for utilities in a highly localized way.
“While the overall penetration rate for EVs will be low for some time, there’s growing fear in the utility industry about pockets of high density,” he said. “You’ll find an affluent subdivision with higher penetration rates than other areas. All these folks will plug in at the same time and the distribution transformers serving those homes will get overloaded.
“Pad-mounted and overhead transformers weren’t sized to handle the load of electric vehicle charging,” he explained. “And they’re designed to have a nighttime cooling period. If we’re charging a bunch of EVs at night, transformers won’t be able to cool down enough, and during the day they’ll blow up or burn out.”
Such pain points will prompt utilities to accelerate plans to install smart-charging infrastructure — and that makes EV integration standards all the more timely. “Once the vehicles start rolling out in certain areas,” McDonald says, “smart charging will come to the forefront almost as quickly as the cars do.”-Michael T. Burr