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Will U.S. Grid Provide Enough Power for All EVs?

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Map of Tesla's Supercharger stations across the US

Map of Tesla’s Supercharger stations across the US

As MIT’s Technology Review (TR) notes, President Obama has set a goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2015. However, as TR writes, while it is easy to imagine an increase in the number of electric vehicles on the roads, it is not so easy to imagine how electric-generating capacity will increase at the same rate.

TR reported in an earlier article that while the “grid” has the capacity to support more than 150 million EVs (a number that would equate to about 75% of all cars, pickups and SUVs on US roads), the problem is how to distribute power to individual neighborhoods. In that article, TR wrote that in 2012 only about 50,000 electric cars were sold.

Now, a new study led by Yingjie Zhou at Sichuan University in China demonstrates that this power distribution problem can be solved with algorithms similar to those that control communication-network resources, TR writes. But in order for the solution to work, car owners will need to provide accurate information about their driving habits.

Because EVs require overnight charging in order to be ready for people’s morning commutes, the challenge is how to parcel out the power on the grid so that most of those cars can be charged, TR writes. The researchers considered a system by which cars were charged on a first-come, first-served basis; and another method in which all cars would receive a certain number of minutes of charging.

But Zhou and team found that neither of those systems worked well. The method the researchers found that works best is a system that measures power levels in vehicle batteries, and also considers the time a car owner plans to leave and how far he or she needs to drive, TR writes.

TR elaborates on the study’s solution:

This information dramatically improves the efficiency of the charging system. It allows the team to design an algorithm that provides enough charge for a given commute while minimising the delays experienced by any user.

‘The proposed scheme needs only 5 per cent more than the power demanded to ensure all the vehicles departing with delay in a few minutes,’ say Yingjie and co.

That’s certainly an improvement.

But there is a potential problem. It’s not entirely clear that users would be honest about their requirements, perhaps saying they will leave earlier than planned and that they have a longer commute, to ensure a full charge. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that people would not attempt to game such a system.

In a related news item, Danny King reports for autobloggreen that Tesla has applied for patents for super-fast Superchargers for electric vehicles. We wonder what Zhou and team would say about Tesla’s plans, and whether the Superchargers would help to solve the problem of providing enough power for all the electric cars expected on roads in coming years.

Finally, in a third related news item published on SFGate on Sunday, Thomas Lee and David R. Baker write that Tesla CEO Elon Musk met with an Apple executive last spring at around the same time that analysts suggested Apple acquire Tesla. Lee and Baker write that neither Tesla nor Apple responded to a request for comment on that. SFGate adds: “While a megadeal has yet to emerge (for all of its cash, Apple still plays hardball on valuation), such a high-level meeting between the two Silicon Valley giants involving their top dealmakers suggests Apple was very much interested in buying the electric car pioneer.”

This blog reported last September that Tesla installed Colorado‘s first supercharging station in Summit County at the Outlets at Silverthorne. That station has four cabinets and eight charging stations. Since then, Tesla opened two other stations in the state: at Residence Inn at I-70 exit 116 in Glenwood Springs; and at Mesa Mall, at I-70 exit 26/36 in Grand Junction.


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