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PV-Assisted EV Charging Stations

published: 2011-07-21 17:24

With orders for EVs increasing thanks to a steady rise in gas prices, other businesses are flocking to cash in on the emerging EV charging station niche.

In the United States alone, 14,000 government-funded EV charging stations being installed in 18 major cities in Tennessee, California, Oregon, Washington state, Arizona, Texas, and Washington, D.C. There are also numerous private efforts to meet the infrastructure demand being announced almost daily in the U.S. and around the world.

EV capacity in the U.S. is expected to from 100,000 to 1.7 million by 2015 representing a $14 billion industry, according to figures reported by Deutsche Bank's Global Auto/Auto Parts Equity Research Team. According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, more than half of American drivers today travel less than 30 miles in a typical day and more than 75 percent travel less than 60 miles. Since EVs have a range of 50 to100 miles, they can easily meet the daily needs of most of these drivers in the U.S.

But those drivers also want the convenience and peace-of-mind of knowing they can get to further destinations and back, and this has sparked a frantic push to establish an EV charging network. And that EV charging station growth has accelerated the need for a smart grid.

But what about charging in remote areas or when the grid goes down?

Grid Infrastructure and EVs

The development of "smart grid" technology is critical to deal with fluctuations from utility-scale renewable power, as well as interlinking utilities and EV charging station infrastructure. While many gas stations are installing Level 3 (440V) quick charge stations, Level 2 (220V) charging stations are the most widely used. Level 2 chargers, which take roughly 8 hours to charge a fully drained battery, are finding their way into retail and work locations. At home, simple 110V Level 1 charges do the job over night when utility costs are lowest.

Coulomb Technologies currently has the largest base of network connected charging stations worldwide. Coulomb’s $37 million U.S. government-funded ChargePoint America program is a partnership between Coulomb and Ford, Chevrolet and Smart USA to provide nearly 5,000 charging stations in ten regions in the United States. Coulomb’s ChargePoint Network is also managing more than 70 electric vehicle charging stations at Google’s worldwide headquarters in Mountain View, California. Those charging stations are used by employee-owned EVs, as well as the company’s expanding EV car sharing program. With plans for 250 more charging stations, Google’s installation is the largest workplace EV charging installation in the country.

In the U.S., San Francisco-based ECOtality has been given over $230 million in government grants to install 14,000 of their Level 2 stations in 16 cities throughout the U.S. A joint venture with the U.S. Department of Transportation, ECOtality’s EV Project was launched in October of 2009 and is scheduled to last three years. Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF drivers who qualify to participate in the project also receive a free home charger in exchange for allowing EV Project researchers to collect data from the homeowner’s vehicle and the charger to evaluate effective charging infrastructure strategies for future installations.

AeroVironment is yet another private company currently working with the state Department of Transportations in Oregon and Washington State to install freeway Level 3 chargers between the California and the Canadian borders.

Solar-Assisted Charging Projects

While the large, government-funded EV charging projects in the U.S. are focused on technology that ties to a smart grid, other projects have emerged that take EV charging to the next level of true independence from a centralized energy infrastructure.

In June 2011, Solaire Generation unveiled its patent-pending Premium F2 Solar Carport at a General Electric facility in Connecticut. General Electriccombined forces with Inovateus Solarto install the 98.7kW GE EV Solar Carport Project which can fully charge up to 13 EVs per day using six of GE’s Level 2 smart charging stations.

The Washington Redskins and NRG Energy are integrating PVs into the FedEx Field and parking lot in September 2011 toprovide a portion of the stadium’s electricity on game days, and all of its power needs during non-game days. NRG’s 8,000 PV panels will generate 2MW of electricity and cover 850 parking spaces in the Platinum A1 Parking Lot. The installation will include translucent solar panels, art sculptures sporting thin-film PV cells and 10 EV charging stations from NRG’s eVgosm charging network.

While these two projects are just a sample of what can be accomplished when PVs are combined with the “smart” parking garage concept, more portable carports are also being developed.

Italian-based Giulio Barbieri S.p.A. has introduced a potable aluminum PV carport made for easy installation and removal. This allows the stand alone carport charging station to be placed wherever it is temporarily needed, such as special events. The self-contained units include an inverter and come powered with either 3 or 4.5kW PV panels that can be tilted as much as 22 degrees to catch more direct sunlight.

EV Automakers

While EV makers have yet to include PVs in their vehicle design, they are helping the EV industry recognize that PV-assisted chargers are feasible:

  • The Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant of the Chevy Volt is already using PVs to charge new Volts before they are transported to dealerships, using a 20kW “Solar Carport” that houses 10 charging stations. The company plans to add additional charging stations around the plant.
  • Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Electric & Electronics Inc. just debuted their EV charging station powered by 96, 175W PV modules at the MMNA headquarters in Cypress, California in July 2011. The EV charging stations include all three levels of chargers, including a level 3 CHAdeMO Quick Charger that can charge the new Mitsubishi i (to be released in November 2011) up to 80 percent in 25 minutes. The DC Quick Charger is manufactured by Eaton Corporation and is the first-of-its-kind certified for U.S. sale. Mitsubishi hopes that consumers who purchase the Mitsubishi i will use the charging station as a convience when commuting between Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
  • Nissan Motor Co. demonstrated their PV-assisted quick charger for the Nissan Leaf at Nissan's global headquarters in Yokohama on July 11, 2011. Their new charging system uses 488 PV cells installed on the roof of the headquarters building to charge batteries, which in turn are used to fully charge 1,800 Leaf vehicles a year, according to Nissan.
  • Ford Motor Company is tripling production capacity of its EV lineup through 2013, including its all-new C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid which begins production in the U.S. next year at Ford’s Michigan assembly plant. That assembly plant’s production is already powered in part by one of the largest PV systems in that state.

The “Solar Highways” Market

The “West Coast Green Highway” is a three-state U.S. initiative to promote the use of cleaner fuels along the 1,350 mile stretch of Interstate 5 that runs from British Columbia to Baja California. When completed, it will offer a seamless network of EV charging stations from Canada to Mexico, serving more than 2 million EVs that market analysts say will be sold in Washington state, Oregon and California during the next decade.

In June 2010, Washington received a $1.3 million grant as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act that is enabling the state to begin installing their portion of the EV charging stations along the future West Coast Green Highway. The Washington State Department of Transportation selected California-based AeroVironment in July 2011 to manufacture, supply, install and operate the network of fast-charge stations every 40 to 60 miles that will be located at private retail locations such as shopping malls, fueling stations and travel centers by November 30, 2011. AeroVironment says the charge stations will be able to recharge the current available EVs from zero to fully-charged in less than 30 minutes. Each charging station will also include a Level 2 “medium-speed” charging station that will cost EV users less for a charge but take up to four to six hours for a full recharge.

The Washington state project will also include additional EV charging stations to be installed through the federally-funded program EV Project. Combined, the two projects will connect Washington state drivers along the entire 276 miles of I-5 between Canada and Oregon.

Meanwhile in Oregon, AeroVironment was selected on June 8, 2011 to simultaneously install Level 3 EV charging stations along that state’s portion of I-5 through a similar funded project managed by the Oregon Department of Transportation. That project will stretch from the Washington state line south to the California border.

While Oregon and Washington state have ample and cheap grid-supplied hydroelectric power, California’s 800-mile portion of I-5 have the potential to use PV-assisted charging stations along the empty expanses between the Los Angeles basin and Sacramento.

In July 2011,the California Public Utilities Commission approved new procedures to boost the widespread use of EVs on California's roads and directed local utilities to work with automakers to identify and plan potential locations for charging stations. In the meantime, the California portion of the West Coast Green Highway is still in the planning stages and offers an opportunity in incorporate PV-assisted charging stations.

All three state projects will be complemented by the EV Project, which will also install public EV charging stations in six states, including Washington, Oregon and California.

PV- Assisted Charging Market

While automakers continue to bring EVs to the marketplace, it is currently government-funded projects and utility companies that are building the charging station infrastructure required to support these vehicles before they completely take hold in mainstream transportation.

PricewaterhouseCooper surveyed over 200 industry executives, including automotive, technology, utilities, energy and government for its May 2011 report entitled Charging Forward: Electric Vehicle Survey. The report found that one-third (33.8 percent) of respondents felt lack of investment to modernize the grid is a primary roadblock preventing the widespread support of EVs and  31.1 percent though the lack of grid capacity during peak energy consumption hours also is a concern. At the same time, the report found that 68.8 percent of respondents believe hybrids and plug-in EVs are the most appealing to consumers overall.

PricewaterhouseCooper’s auto industry forecasting arm, Autofacts, is forecasting annual production of alternative fuel vehicles will reach nine million units by 2020, representing roughly nine percent of global market share. Of that, nearly one thirdwill be plug-in and pure electric vehicles. Significant volume increases are also expected between 2017 and 2020 as second and third generation EVs are rolled out. And the market for electric vehicle charging equipment is expected to reach more than 1.5 million annual shipments globally by 2015, according to a market research firm. 

As EVs continue to grow in popularity, more charging stations are appearing at large employers, automobile dealerships, shopping centers and schools, where the vehicles can charge while people work, shop or study. It is at these sites, where people spend more time parked in one location, that the Level 2 (240V) charging stations are becoming most common. What retailers, and some employers, are discovering is that by offering free EV charging services, they can draw or hold a growing segment of the population that see the service as a perk. But connecting to the grid means paying an electric bill. This is where one of the emerging markets for PV-assisted charging stations is taking off: where the retailer or employer does not have to pay for power for the charging stations.

And as more cross-country highways, as well as remote tourist attractions like national parks, become “EV friendly,” the need for PV-powered charging stations will only increase.

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