Saturday, January 29, 2011

TVA Unveils Electric Vehicle Charging Station Prototype

With nary a sunbeam in sight, TVA and the Electric Power Research Institute on Tuesday unveiled a concept for charging the electric vehicles that are just beginning to hit the local highways.

Equipped with about 12 kilowatts' worth of solar panels and a battery array with about five kilowatt-hours of storage, the six-parking-spot station will be used to analyze the potential impact of electric vehicles on the electric grid as well as ways to supplement that power. It is the first of two such stations to be built in East Tennessee and will serve as a research prototype to model how electric cars can be juiced up when they're away from home.

"We want to be the fuel that supplies electric cars," said Rudy Shankar, TVA vice president for technology innovation. But adding a new source of electric demand could impact the overall cost and availability of power, he said.

"We don't want to have any negative impact on the grid reliability," he said. "We don't want to have an impact on the ratepayers."

Called a SMART station, for Smart Modal Area Recharge Terminal, the first station is located at EPRI's Knoxville research center off Dutchtown Road. The second prototype, with 25 spaces, will be located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is participating with TVA, EPRI, charger maker ECOtality and other private and public partners in a nationwide effort, known as the EV Project, to study electric vehicle infrastructure.

The stations will go through three to six months of testing before a series of new stations will be added in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville, bringing the total of charging spaces up to 125. The EPRI site is for research use only.

The project coincides with the introduction of several electric vehicles into the American marketplace. The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt began rolling off production lines late last year. And later this year the Mitsubishi i-MiEV will be introduced in the United States. The three cars were on display at the Tuesday event.

The station cost between $500,000 and $600,000 to build with the expense split between TVA and EPRI, according to James Ellis, TVA senior manager for transportation and infrastructure. The power provider and utility research firm will study different aspects of electric vehicle charging, including consumer behavior, the impact on the electricity system, infrastructure design and development and a variety of battery systems. The organizations also will use the charging stations to assess electric vehicles' potential to reduce greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

While the solar panels can help offset demand on the grid - the sun shines the hottest when demand for electricity is the highest - the batteries can be used to supplement the power on not-so-sunny days and stabilize the grid itself, said John Halliwell, project manager for electric transportation at EPRI's Knoxville office. The company also has research offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and Charlotte, N.C.

"If you only had solar you couldn't charge the vehicle," he said, "but by having the grid tie you can charge in any weather."

For electric vehicles to remain a less-expensive alternative to petroleum-powered cars and trucks - it costs about $1 to drive 40 miles in an electric car, according to Ellis - owners will have to charge them primarily at night, utilizing electricity during down times when electricity is plentiful and cheap.

But "there's always going to be some daytime charging in the public space," Halliwell said. "This is one way to sort of offset that."

Each spot can get more than 2 kilowatts in solar-powered charge, with the system powering about 7,000 driving miles per year, he said.


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