Mass adoption of electric vehicles, or EVs, has a dark side: when thousands of EV drivers come home from work and plug in their cars, demand on the electrical grid suddenly surges.
Thus, EVs represent a huge challenge for power companies, which must either provide more power or find a way to manage the loads.
Enter General Electric, this magazine’s sponsor, which is developing “demand response” technology to help utilities deal with the spikes that will come when significant numbers of EVs ply our roads, according to Jason Black, a systems engineer at GE Global Research.
The idea behind demand response is to foster communication between customers and the smart grid about power availability and demand. Utilities have been doing this for decades with “direct load control,” which, for example, shuts down water heaters if demand peaks.
A smarter, subtler grid
But the smart grid is much subtler. Instead of shutting down appliances, it can ask homes equipped with energy management systems, say, for a specific reduction based on a certain criteria.
So, when drivers plug in their cars at the end of the day, Black said, “I tell the utility what time I need to be charged by and the utility can schedule that charge at any time in that window.”
That means that instead of charging a car at 7 p.m., when many people are using their microwaves and TVs, the utility can charge it after midnight, when demand drops considerably. If 1,000 people in a given network are drawing 6 kilowatts at a time, rescheduling the charges can shave 6 megawatts of demand at a critical time, Black said.
And since peak power is the most expensive – and, often, the dirtiest – to generate, all utility customers will benefit through demand management. It will also decrease the likelihood of blackouts.