It seems to be an era gone by when mass deployment of electric vehicles was considered to be limited by electricity supply. Then the burning question was: where will all the extra current come from? But even the more advanced concept of using excess electricity at night, when demand is low, to charge an EV (and even use it to store electricity for use during the day) may soon seem passe as well.
Swedish Internet communications company Ericsson has developed a new EV charging system–along with Volvo, local utility Göteborg Energi and non-profit IT research institute Viktoria Institute–that allows utilities to charge EVs based on a schedule of electricity pricing. Once a customer inputs a request for charging, from their car or from a mobile application, the system coordinates the request with electricity demand throughout the grid, ensuring minimum waste and maximum efficiency.
Customers will be able to plug their cars into a conventional home outlet and pay for the charging along with their usual electricity bill. But project leaders hope the ease and convenience of the system will be matched with energy efficiency and savings for both utilities and customers.
As US politicians and energy professionals meet in Washington DC this week for the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, collaborative projects like this smartgrid-friendly mobile-happy EV-charging system have become a beacon of hope. This EV charging system is among the new technologies that offer innovative ways to shift away from an oil and gas economy to a cleaner and greener future that uses technology to reduce rather than compound human harm to the environment.
Traditional power plants produce enough electricity during the day to ensure a steady stream of power to consumers. During off-peak hours when usage drops, typically during the night, the power plants cut back production. But, depending on the specific type of plant, a significant amount of electricity is typically wasted during these transitions and during off-peak hours. Smart grid systems that facilitate communication between various nodes on a grid can reduce power waste.
Inspired by the promise of a smart digitized grid, various entrepreneurs have innovated technologies that use information about peak electricity usage to maximize usage of cheap off-peak electricity. One of GE’s five 2011 ecomagination Innovation Award winners was Suntulit Balance, a California-based home HVAC company that uses digital technology to detects a homeowner’s living patterns for maximum energy efficiency. For example, if a homeowners uses a room midday in the summer, the system will hyper-cool the room in early morning hours when energy is cheap and then use a fan system later in the day to spread the cool air.
The electric car can be charged in a similar way to the Suntulit Balance home HVAC system, with the added advantage that the electric car is increasingly being touted as a giant battery or energy storage system. If Ericsson’s is proven on commercial-scale, utilities will be able to sell rather than waste excess production during off-peak hours while providing customers with a supply of energy that can offset use during peak hours.
By using electricity that’s already produced in a more efficient way, consumers can collectively reduce need for new power plants and allow existing plants to reduce burning of fossil fuels. And, as utilities learn more tricks for effective energy management, they will also be able to incorporate a larger percentage of intermittent renewbles that will not neccesarily provide a constant 24-hour flow of electricity.