Electric vehicles present several challenges for utilities and smart grid

Perry Hoffman

Smart Grid Summit in Miami: Issues around electric vehicles and the smart grid have largely focused on charging infrastructure, but Coulomb Technologies says there are also challenges coming such as accepting payments at public charging stations.

Michael Jones, a program director at the three-year-old Silicon Valley startup, noted that utilities to date have been slow to recognize that electric vehicles are coming and they will be coming in relatively large numbers in a very short period of time.

“There is still a lot of reluctance in the marketplace to get their head around the fact that these cars are really selling and really coming in large numbers. In 2012, you’re going to have over 20 different manufacturers selling electric vehicles in the United States,” he said during a session on electric vehicles at the Smart Grid Summit in Miami earlier this month.

There are estimates that peg the number of plug-in electric vehicles worldwide at three million by 2015 with about one million of them being in the US. Breaking that number down by market, that means there could be 186,000 plug-in EVs in the Los Angeles basin in five years.

Henry Bailey, VP of industry solutions group at SAP America, noted that there could be upwards of 60,000 plug-in electric vehicles sold in the US this year.

Jones urged utilities to get moving on the electric vehicle front, preparing for their arrival. “When you start getting into the real deployments of these systems, it takes a long time,” he said.

Coulomb is teaming with some of the major automobile manufacturers (Ford, GM and Smart) to rollout 5,000 EV charging stations in nine metropolitan areas in the US. Once completed by the end of 2011, the company along with its partners will study the entire system for a couple of years before making recommendations with respect to possible policy and regulatory changes as well as general lessons learned.

For the EV ecosystem (automobiles, charging stations and utilities) to work, the industry needs to get away from the “gas station model”. It won’t work, said Jones. Even with fast charging stations, which could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, drivers could find themselves waiting “an hour and a half” to get a charge.

For now the industry has settled on a charging standard, what he referred to as Ethernet for EVs, that calls for a four- to six-hour charge time. In either scenario, the gas station model just doesn’t work.

With respect to the charging infrastructure itself, it will be primarily a residential based system with some being at the workplace and the remaining as part of a public infrastructure. Jones suggested the following split: 80% residential; 15% workplace; and 5% public. But even in this type of scenario there are challenges because more than 50% of Americans live in multi-dwelling units.

Building and deploying a public EV charging infrastructure does present some considerable challenges. Drivers will want to know where they are, if they are available for use and the cost of using a particular station. “It’s critical that I make sure that I have a fueling source available or I’m not going to risk going beyond 50% of the range of my car,” Jones said.

Integrating with payment systems is also a hurdle that needs to be addressed. The stations will need to accept multiple payment methods and have some way of authenticating a particular user.

SAP America is working with Coulomb, Siemens and Consumers Energy in Michigan on a full-fledged EV trial that includes settling payments at public charging infrastructure as well as testing a variety of payment methods.

Bailey outlined the key elements of the EV trial said during his presentation. One of the trial’s goals is to enable the charging of EV at multiple locations within Consumers Energy’s service territory, including a home and other locations, he noted.

The scenario involves a student who lives in Jackson MI and commutes to Lansing for night classes. The student will be able to charge the EV at several locations within that 100 mile radius and pay by a variety of methods. At a first level, the trial will consider settling the payment internally, meaning Lansing would bill Jackson or Consumers Energy. A second stage would be to integrate credit card payments with a mobile device and potentially offering the ability to include the EV charging fees on a cell phone bill.

“The goal is to show that end-to-end connectivity and to really learn what works and what not to do,” Bailey said.

All of these issues and many others should be on the utilities’ radar screens, said Jones, particularly as next generation EVs become much more reliable and with considerable longer life spans.

“I think in 10 years you’re going to see those cars with half a million to a million mile life spans with no service other than tires and wipers,” he said. “So the total cost of ownership in the next 10 years is going to be extremely attractive. I don’t think 10 years from now anybody is going to seriously consider buying a gasoline automobile.”


Create Your Own Webinar Free, Today!


Company BIO
We take advantage of high quality webinar technology. We make an abundance of actionable, premium content easily available. Log in anytime, from anywhere to get exactly what YOU need from our diverse and interactive global network of experts and key opinion leaders.

Featured Content