Solving Electric-Vehicle Popularity Problems with Smart EV Charging

Aug. 10, 2015
With electric vehicles popular in California and other states — and creating transformer overload problems — companies are releasing smart EV charging products. These products can set limits on how much EV owners can draw at certain times.

California residents have purchased about 142,000 of the approximate 339,5oo plug-in vehicles sold nationally since 2011,  according to the Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative.

While that’s good news for California’s environment, it’s not always good news for utilities that must cope with high peak loads in plug-in popular neighborhoods. However, it’s creating a market for companies like eMotorWerks, which helps manage high loads from electric-vehicle charging.

About 10 percent of cars sold in the San Jose area are now plug-ins, says Valery Miftakhov, CEO of eMotorWerks.

“That creates a problem,” he says. “In a lot of neighborhoods, with the time-of-use rates, which incentive people to start charging cars at certain times, you have local load spikes that create difficult situations at the local grid level,” he says. “Transformers are getting overloaded.”

The Silicon Valley is especially vulnerable to transformer failures due to EVs, he says. “The utilities are interested in solutions that would allow them to modulate the load so it doesn’t exceed a certain amount.”

The California Public Utilities Commission now allows utilities to invest in EV charging infrastructure, and Pacific Gas & Electric has asked for PUC approval to partner with the private sector and build more than 25,000 charging stations.

To help utilities solve the charging overload problem, EMotorWerks ensures that an EV load doesn’t exceed a certain amount.

“We can say to a utility, ‘for this particular node, the EV charging load cannot exceed say 15 MW,'” says Miftakhov. The company is now talking to California utilities about its smart charging products, which improve grid stability.

The company’s JuiceBox product, sold to car owners, is a Level 2 EV charging station that includes energy metering, WiFI, and smart phone control options. “Our system takes into account driver preferences about when they need their car. They use a smart phone app and say, ‘I need to be charged by 7 am.’ We move the load around so there’s no peak.”

To date, the company has sold about 5,000 units, 50 percent of which are in California.

Another hotspot is Colorado. The number of EVs in Denver has jumped 150 percent since 2011, which makes it one of the top ten cities for EVs in the country, according to a press release from NRG Energy.

NRG is working to make EVs even more popular. One of the biggest barriers to EV purchases, the company says, is “range anxiety,” meaning worries that owners won’t be able to recharge on the road. To address this challenge, NRG has created the largest EV charging network in the country, called EVgo.

“With hundreds of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations across America, EVgo is the largest provider of public ‘Fast Charging’ locations.  EVgo fast-charging Freedom Stations can be used by any EV and can deliver 40 miles of range in as little as 15 minutes, allowing drivers to quickly charge their vehicles,” said an NRG press release. The company recently launched its first public DC fast charging network in Denver.

Fast charging means big draws on the utility. Will Denver be the next center of transformer failures due to EV charging?

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

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