If the world is going to add a plethora of electric vehicles to its grids -- and all evidence suggests that is the very near future of transportation -- those grids and those cars are going to have to be very smart.
The people who own the cars? They don't have to be so smart, as long as they're smart enough to use a smart phone.
That's one of the top-line findings of a test by the "Electric vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated market using Sustainable energy and Open Networks" (EDISON) consortium in Denmark. The study is billed as the biggest real-world test of how electric vehicles interact with an electric grid that's rich in renewable energy.
The results of the project show how VERGE technologies -- the convergence of smart technologies for electrical grids, renewable energy, vehicles and homes and offices -- need to evolve and expand adoption in order to make a low-carbon, clean-energy future possible.
The project, which is backed by the state-owned utility Dong Energy, along with Siemens, IBM and others, looked at EV usage on the Danish island of Bornholm. On the island, 33 percent of the electricity comes from renewable sources. Most of that is wind, which tends to blow at night. The study found that in order to keep the grid from being overloaded, EVs must be charged at off-peak hours when there is excess generating capacity available on the grid and electricity is cheap.
And the only way to make that possible is to enable EV owners to "set it and forget it" -- let their cars and the grid communicate about the best times to charge.
The EDISON study started in February 2009. After more than two years monitoring the habits of 50 EV owners on Bornholm, which is home to about 43,000 people, the researchers concluded that only three to eight of the 50 vehicles could charge during peak demand hours in the late afternoon and early evening. Using smart charging techniques however, all the vehicles could be plugged in at night, charge at staggered times and be ready to go with a full charge in the morning.
To make this happen, drivers only had to program their cars, using a smart phone app, to charge when electricity is cheap. Once the car knows when the owner prefers to charge up, EV owners could simply plug them in and walk away. The car's computer then communicated with the grid and started charging when the time is right and other vehicles were not charging.
"In EDISON, IBM coordinated the development of a server-side management system to control the charging of cars in accordance with the availability of renewable energy while enabling optimal use of the electricity grid," Dr. Dieter Gantenbein, leader of the Smart Grid research unit at IBM Research in Zurich, said in a statement.
The problem of charging EVs is no small task. In Denmark alone, if 10 percent of the nation's vehicles were electric, 200,000 vehicles would be connected to the grid, according to reports. Some estimates say EVs will make up about a quarter of the U.S. fleet [PDF] by 2030.
Now that the first EDISON study is complete, the group's members -- Siemens, IBM, Østkraft, DONG Energy, Eurisco, Risø DTU National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy, DTU Electrical Engineering, DTU Transport and the Danish Energy Association -- are launching the EcoGrid Project. This will expand the research to 2,000 homes and look at the entire electric supply grid to find out how EVs can play a role in balancing power demand.
"We are taking a look at the individual electric vehicle and examine the whole electric supply grid with large amounts of sustainable energy, how electric power can be used flexibly and how the electric vehicle is an absolutely indispensable part of the overall picture," Claus Møller, head of the Energy Division at Siemens Denmark, said in a statement.
The short video below explains the EDISON project in some detail. More information is at EDISON-net.dk.
Photo CC-licensed by HerrVebah.