NREL eyes intersection of EVs, green power and the grid

Engineers working at the Vehicle Testing and Integration Facility enjoy a stunning view of the Denver skyline. However, some days the view includes Denver's "brown cloud" — air pollution caused in part by vehicle emissions. While disheartening, the brown cloud helps the engineers focus on future technologies that will drastically reduce — and ultimately eliminate — those emissions.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory are advancing a more sustainable transportation future by incorporating advanced electric vehicle technology, expanded use of renewable energy resources for vehicle charging, and grid integration.

"Our goal is to target the key innovations necessary to accelerate the rate of adoption for electric drive vehicles," said Bob Rehn, group manager for testing and analysis at NREL's Center for Transportation Technologies and Systems. "In addition, our efforts are focused on scenarios that will incorporate expanded use of renewable energy resources to charge those vehicles."

The Right Tool for the Job

The VTIF, which has been in operation for a little more than a year, was built with a specific focus on testing electric vehicles, charging options and grid integration, all of which are critical for expanded transportation infrastructure around plug-in electric vehicles, or PEVs.

"There are a lot of entities investigating components of electric vehicles, grid integration or infrastructure," said NREL vehicle systems engineer Mike Simpson. "There are very few places looking at how they all come together as a much larger, connected system. This facility was designed from the ground up to specifically address that intersection point."

Capabilities at the VTIF include vehicle energy management within smart grids, vehicle charge integration with renewable energy resources, bidirectional vehicle charge testing and demonstration, and vehicle thermal management. Four test bays at the facility allow for multiple tests to be conducted at once in controlled environments and can accommodate a wide variety of vehicles, including one test bay built specifically to conduct testing on heavy-duty vehicles. An upcoming addition to the facility is an 18-kilowatt solar array, which will be tied directly to vehicle charging and will allow researchers to do expanded work around the use of solar energy to charge electric vehicles within microgrids.

Photo of urban roadway provided by fotomak/Shutterstock

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