Cómo un cargador inteligente podría facilitar la transición a los coches eléctricos

El cargador de REVE. "Si un millón de propietarios de vehículos se enchufan para recargar los vehículos después del trabajo, podría causar una gran tensión en la red", explica el ingeniero Michael Meyer-Kintner del Departamento de Energía del Laboratorio Nacional del Noroeste del Pacífico (PNNL).

Él y sus colegas han elaborado un dispositivo que automáticamente recarga los vehículos eléctricos en los periodos de menor demanda de energía y al menor coste para el consumidor.

El cargador inteligente mejorar la eficiencia de la recarga de los vehículos eléctricos, al evitarla durante los picos en la demanda de electricidad, posibilitando en cambio la recarga en las horas valle, lo que permite una utilización más uniforme de la red, señala Kintner-Meyer.

El ingeniero Michael Kintner-Meyer y su equipo del PNNL desarrollaron el Cargador inteligente para impedir que los vehículos carguen sus baterías en los picos de la demanda en la red eléctrica.

"El uso del dispositivo podría ahorrar hasta 150 dólares al año en la electricidad que pagan los propietarios de los vehículos eléctricos sobre la base de cuando cargan su vehículo", añade.

Los propietarios de los vehículos eléctricos podrán programar el dispositivo para configurar la carga durante determinados momentos (por la noche o en horas valle) o cuando los precios de la electricidad son más bajos.

El controlador utiliza la tecnología inalámbrica para comunicar esta información a la red eléctrica y calcular la mejor y la hora más barata para recargar el vehículo.

La tarificación inteligente es una tecnología que ya se puede utilizar, pero será cada vez más importante a medida que una nueva generación de vehículos eléctricos tome las carreteras y calles.


Smart Charger Controller simplifies electric vehicle recharging

Grid Friendly: battery technology saves money, protects against outages

Electric vehicle owners can plug in their cars and forget about them, knowing they’ll get the cheapest electricity available and won’t crash the grid – using a new technology called the Smart Charger Controller. Developed at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the controller automatically recharges electric vehicles during times of least cost to the consumer and lower demand for power. Widespread use of these devices could help advance a smart power grid.

Electric vehicles will ultimately reduce the nation’s dependency on oil. While the new vehicles will serve as an additional source of power demand, they also could contribute to an even "smarter" grid if equipped with controller technology.

"If a million owners plug in their vehicles to recharge after work, it could cause a major strain on the grid," said PNNL engineer Michael Kintner-Meyer. "The Smart Charger Controller could prevent those peaks in demand from plug-in vehicles and enable our existing grid to be used more evenly."

That efficiency translates to a more stable grid and cheaper power.

"Using the device could save up to $150 a year for electric vehicle owners who pay based on when they charge their vehicle," Kintner-Meyer said.

How it Works

Electric vehicles will become widely available starting in 2011. The current Administration supports a goal of one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. A previous PNNL study showed that America’s existing power grid could meet the needs of about 70 percent of all U.S. light-duty vehicles if battery charging was managed to avoid new peaks in electricity demand.

The Smart Charger Controller does just that. Owners program the controller to charge at a specific time of day or night or at a set price point. The controller uses a low-range wireless technology to communicate with the power grid and determine the best and cheapest time to recharge vehicles. By charging vehicles during off-peak times, the controller saves consumers money.

Previous PNNL studies with household appliances show that "smart" technologies also save the grid from brown-outs with little impact to the consumer. Grid Friendly™ technology inside the Smart Charger Controller senses stress conditions on the grid. When the grid says more power is needed, the controller can temporarily stop charging the vehicle until the stress subsides.

This instant reduction in charging load, multiplied on a large scale with many vehicles, could serve as a shock absorber for the grid. The technology would relieve load instantly and give grid operators time to bring new power generation sources on line to stabilize the grid – a process that usually takes several minutes.

The Road Ahead is Now

With more electric vehicles on the horizon, road-ready, smart charging technology can be used now, according to Kintner-Meyer. Advancing technologies like the Smart Charger Controller today will enable the new generation of electric vehicles to be "smarter" once they’re available commercially, he noted.

Business inquiries should be directed to smartcharger@pnl.gov. This work is supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

Contacts: Annie Haas, PNNL, (509) 375-3732


Smart Cars for the Smart Grid: Big Savings, High Costs

Did you ever stop and think about how “dumb” our electricity grid is? We pay the same rate for a kilowatt hour of electricity at noon as at 3 a.m., when demand is much lower and the utilities are creating power that no one can use. And it’s not interconnected, so a wind farm in, say, South Dakota, can’t send its considerable electricity generation to population centers like New York.

As companies like Coloumb, ECOtality and Better Place start the arduous task of wiring up communities and, indeed, whole countries for electric vehicle (EV) recharging, they’re dependent on the same flat-price, pre-digital grid we’ve had for 70 or more years. But that’s changing rapidly, and Boulder, Colorado points the way forward to “smart” grid of tomorrow.

Boulder has 50,000 electric meters, and big utility Xcel Energy is spending $100 million to make about half of them smart. Using a forthcoming Google ap, homeowners will be able to see regular readouts of how much electricity they’re using right on their computers. GridPoint meters allow readings every 15 minutes, and send out an email summary once a week.

“Boulder is getting elements of a smart grid, but it’s not there yet,” says Clay Perry, a spokesman for the trade group Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). “Smart grids will ultimately allow consumers with EVs to recharge at optimal times for both the utility and the customer,” he said. “And ideally, they should give those customers the option of selling their whole EV charge back to the grid.”

That’s called vehicle-to-grid technology, or V2G, and Pacific Gas & Electric, Google.org and other utilities have been championing it.

Some EV makers are also equipping their cars for interactivity with the smart grid—technology that isn’t there yet. Both Bright Motors (which is launching a plug-in hybrid delivery van, with plans to produce 50,000 by 2013) and Aptera (whose Jetsons-like 2e electric car will be on the market at the end of the year) have on-board software allowing them to recharge at optimal times—and sell power back, too.

The current grid is six million miles of distribution and transmission wiring. Perry estimates that fully rewiring the country for an interactive smart grid is “at least a couple of decades away.” The whole thing could cost $200 billion or more. But President Obama has put down a deposit with $11 billion in funding for the smart grid as part of the $787 billion stimulus spending package.


The Grid, Our Cars and the Net: One Idea to Link Them All

Robin Chase thinks a lot about transportation and the internet, and how to link them. She connected them when she founded Zipcar, and she wants to do it again by making our electric grid and our cars smarter. Time magazine recently named her one of the 100 most influential people of the year. David Weinberger sat down with Chase to discuss her idea.

Robin Chase considers the future of electricity, the future of cars and the internet three terms in a single equation, even if most of us don’t yet realize they’re on the same chalkboard. Solve the equation correctly, she says, and we create a greener future where innovation thrives. Get it wrong, and our grandchildren will curse our names.

Chase thinks big, and she’s got the cred to back it up. She created an improbable network of automobiles called Zipcar. Getting it off the ground required not only buying a fleet of cars, but convincing cities to dedicate precious parking spaces to them. It was a crazy idea, and it worked. Zipcar now has 6,000 cars and 250,000 users in 50 towns.

Now she’s moving on to the bigger challenge of integrating a smart grid with our cars – and then everything else. The kicker is how they come together. You can sum it up as a Tweet: The intelligent network we need for electricity can also turn cars into nodes. Interoperability is a multiplier. Get it right!

Chase starts by explaining the smart grid. There’s broad consensus that our electrical system should do more than carry electricity. It should carry information. That would allow a more intelligent, and efficient, use of power.

“Our electric infrastructure is designed for the rare peak of usage,” Chase says. “That’s expensive and wasteful.”

Changing that requires a smart grid. What we have is a dumb one. We ask for electricity and the grid provides it, no questions asked. A smart grid asks questions and answers them. It makes the meter on your wall a sensor that links you to a network that knows how much power you’re using, when you’re using it and how to reduce your energy needs – and costs.

Such a system will grow more important as we become energy producers, not just consumers. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids will return power to the grid. Rooftop solar panels and backyard wind turbines will, at times, produce more energy than we can store. A smart grid generates what we need and lets us use what we generate. That’s why the Obama Administration allocated $4.5 billion in the stimulus bill for smart grid R&D.

This pleases Chase, but it also makes her nervous. The smart grid must be an information network, but we have a tradition of getting such things wrong. Chase is among those trying to convince the government that the safest and most robust network will use open internet protocols and standards. For once the government seems inclined to listen.

Chase switches gears to talk about how cars fit into the equation. She sees automobiles as just another network device, one that, like the smart grid, should be open and net-based.

“Cars are network nodes,” she says. “They have GPS and Bluetooth and toll-both transponders, and we’re all on our cell phones and lots of cars have OnStar support services.”

That’s five networks. Automakers and academics will bring us more. They’re working on smart cars that will communicate with us, with one another and with the road. How will those cars connect to the network? That’s the third part of Chase’s equation: Mesh networking.

In a typical Wi-Fi network, there’s one router and a relatively small number of devices using it as a gateway to the internet. In a mesh network, every device is also a router. Bring in a new mesh device and it automatically links to any other mesh devices within radio range. It is an example of what internet architect David Reed calls “cooperative gain” – the more devices, the more bandwidth across the network. Chase offers an analogy to explain it.

“Wi-Fi is like a bridge that connects the highways on either side of the stream,” she says. “You build it wide enough to handle the maximum traffic you expect. If too much comes, it gets congested. When not enough arrives, you’ve got excess capacity. Mesh takes a different approach: Each person who wants to cross throws in a flat rock that’s above the water line. The more people who do that, the more ways there are to get across the river.”

Cooperative gain means more users bring more capacity, not less. It’s always right-sized. Of course, Chase points out, if you’re trying to go a long distance, you’re ultimately forced back onto the broadband bridge where the capacity is limited. But for local intra-mesh access, it’s a brilliant and counter-intuitive strategy.

Mesh networking as a broad-based approach to networking is growing. A mesh network with 240 nodes covers Vienna. Similar projects are underway in Barcelona, Athens, the Czech Republic and, before long, in two areas of Boston not far from the cafe we’re sitting in. But the most dramatic examples are the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Today in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers and tanks and airplanes are running around using mesh networks,” said Chase. “It works, it’s secure, it’s robust. If a node or device disappears, the network just reroutes the data.”

And, perhaps most important, it’s in motion. That’s what allows Chase’s plural visions to go singular. Build a smart electrical grid that uses Internet protocols and puts a mesh network device in every structure that has an electric meter. Sweep out the half dozen networks in our cars and replace them with an open, Internet-based platform. Add a mesh router. A nationwide mesh cloud will form, linking vehicles that can connect with one another and with the rest of the network. It’s cooperative gain gone national, gone mobile, gone open.

Chase’s mesh vision draws some skepticism. Some say it won’t scale up. The fact it’s is being used in places like Afghanistan and Vienna indicates it could. Others say moving vehicles may not be able to hook into and out of mesh networks quickly enough. Chase argues it’s already possible to do so in less than a second, and that time will only come down. But even if every car and every electric meter were meshed, there’s still a lot of highway out there that wouldn’t be served, right? Chase has an answer for that, too.

“Cars would have cellular and Wi-Fi as backups,” she said.

The economics are right, she argues. Rather than over-building to handle peak demand and letting capacity go unused, we would right-size our infrastructure to provide exactly what we need, when we need it, with minimum waste and maximum efficiency.

“There’s an economy of network scale here,” she says. “The traffic-light guys should be interested in this for their own purposes, and so should the power-grid folks and the emergency responders and the Homeland Security folks and, well, everyone. Mesh networks based on open standards are economically justifiable for any one of these things. Put them together – network the networks – and for the same exact infrastructure spend, you get a ubiquitous, robust, resilient, open communication platform — ripe for innovation — without spending a dollar more.”

The time is right, too. There’s $7.2 billion in the stimulus bill for broadband, $4.5 billion for the smart grid and about $5 billion for transportation technology. The Transportation Reauthorization bill is coming up, too. At $300 billion it is second only to education when it comes to federal discretionary spending. We are about to make a huge investment in a set of networks. It will be difficult to gather the political and economic will to change them once they are deployed.

“We need to get this right, right now,” Chase says.

Build each of these infrastructures using open networking standards and we enable cooperative gain at the network level itself. Get it wrong and we will have paved over a generational opportunity.


The Forgotten Piece of the Smart Grid: Energy Storage

Adding digital intelligence to the power grid is getting all the attention right now from Congress, investors and entrepreneurs, but a next-generation smart grid without energy storage is like a computer without a hard drive: severely limited. Energy stored throughout the grid can provide dispatchable power to address peak power needs, decreasing the use of expensive plants that utilities power up as a last resort when demand spikes, making the network less volatile. Energy storage will also be crucial for making the most of variable renewable energy sources (the sun shines and the wind blows only at certain times) once they’re connected to the grid. In the way that computers and the infrastructure of the Internet have built up around storage as a key component, so will the power grid eventually rely on energy storage technology as a pivotal piece.

But until recently, energy storage has been largely ignored — overshadowed by clean power generation or information technology for the smart grid. Mohr Davidow Ventures partner Marianne Wu said at an energy storage conference at UC Berkeley last week that over the past few years it’s been very hard to find entrepreneurs with long careers and innovative ideas in grid-focused energy storage. The small number of battery startups in the U.S. have generally been focusing on the sexier market of electric and hybrid vehicles.

All that seems to be changing, though, as more attention shifts to the importance of remaking the power grid. The stimulus package is allocating billions specifically for energy storage and advanced battery technology for the power grid, among other applications, in addition to the billions set aside for adding digital intelligence to the grid that will help incorporate these storage technologies. On Tuesday morning, GE announced that it’s building a battery factory in New York state in order to produce energy storage devices for the power grid (as well as heavy-haul trains) and is looking for stimulus funding.

Private investors are also seeing the new opportunities: While venture capital investments for the first quarter of this year dropped across the board, energy storage technology for vehicles and the grid received $114 million, making it one of the only bright spots, according to Ernst & Young and Dow Jones. That was more than double the $50 million venture capitalists invested in the quarter a year prior. If funding news coming out of the current quarter is an indicator of things to come, the energy storage boom will continue. Last week grid energy storage company Deeya Energy announced it has nabbed $30 million.

Battery companies that have been developing devices for vehicles are also increasingly eyeing applications for grid power. A123Systems, the lithium-ion darling backed by GE, installed its first Hybrid Ancillary Power Unit at a power plant owned by AES in Southern California last November. Around the same time lithium titanate battery maker Altairnano announced that it is supplying a 1 MW battery storage system for a major transmission region. And ultracapacitor company EEStor was reported to be in “serious talks” with potential solar and wind energy partners to help boost grid capacity by providing its devices for utility-scale electricity storage.

But beyond advanced batteries and ultracapacitors there’s a variety of technologies being tested for the power grid. These nine are among the most promising:

Compressed Air: Compressed air is a decades-old technology which takes excess energy from a power plant or renewable energy and uses it to run air compressors, which pump air into an underground cave or container where it’s stored under pressure. When the air is released, it powers a turbine, creating electricity. Utilities like PG&E are starting to investigate this technology because it is one of the lowest-cost and simplest energy storage technologies.

But pumping compressed air underground has some environmental and safety concerns, so the process for getting regulators to approve these projects takes a long time. There’s only a handful of compressed air energy storage projects in the world, including one in Alabama and one in Germany. Entrepreneurial ventures in this space are rare, but a joint venture called Energy Storage and Power, which is a partnership between Public Service Enterprise Group, owner of New Jersey’s largest utility, and inventor Michael Nakhamkin, emerged last year.

Pumped Hydro: Pumped hydro storage is the most widespread energy storage technology used in the world, according to the Energy Storage Association. There are about 90 GW of pumped storage in operation, which equals about 3 percent of worldwide generation capacity. The system works by pumping water from a lower reservoir to a higher reservoir and then letting the water move downhill to produce electricity when needed. Traditional iterations of the technology are ideal for populations that live close to high altitude terrain, like Switzerland, where pumped hydro has been used for a century.

Ultracapacitors: A new generation of ultracapacitors is emerging, aiming to seize the future of the auto industry — can they revolutionize the power grid, too? Capacitors have traditionally been used to produce quick bursts of speed and to deliver fast charge times, rather than for endurance, but some of the newer ultracapacitors are getting better in this area. EEStor is one of the more well-known of the group and, as we’ve already pointed out, it has been reported to be talking to renewable energy providers. Graphene Energy, an Austin-based ultracapacitor developer that emerged in January and is seed funded by Quercus Trust, works with the strongest material ever tested — a one-atom thick sheet of graphite — and is looking to apply its device to the power grid.

Flywheels: Flywheels are large discs that spin in a vacuum and are sometimes used as backup power for an uninterrupted power supply (UPS), which are emergency power systems that turn on after a power outage before a generator kicks in. Flywheels have the benefit of needing little upkeep over a 20-year-plus lifetime and don’t contain toxic chemicals the way some batteries do. The amount of power delivered to the grid depends on how fast the flywheel spins. But flywheels have faced some hurdles in reaching mainstream commercialization including technology development, difficulty finding the right market and competition with batteries. (For example, flywheel maker Beacon Power recently said it is delaying the expansion of a small commercial project that it had been planning to build out to 5 MW.)

Sodium Sulfur (NAS) Batteries: Sodium Sulfur or “NAS” batteries use simple ingredients — liquid sulfur and salt — and have been used on Japan’s power grid for years. According to the Electric Storage Association, there are over 190 sites and 270 MW of stored energy from NAS batteries in Japan. In GE’s battery factory announcement this morning, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt said GE will be building sodium-based batteries at its plant and said that the company has over 30 patents in the space.

Flow Batteries: Similar to fuel cells, flow batteries are a decades-old technology that converts chemical energy into electricity. Oftentimes the electrolyte is stored in large external tanks, and the rate of how the power is stored and delivered can be managed. Another advantage of a flow battery is that it can be recharged quickly. The tech is older, but some entrepreneurs see newer opportunities, and Deeya Energy is an example of a new flow battery startup that recently received funding.

Lithium-ion Batteries: Much of the advancement in batteries (for the grid and for electric vehicles) is being done with lithium-based batteries like the ones made by A123Systems and Altairnano. Compared with the incumbent technology, lead acid batteries, lithium allows for faster charging, lighter weight, and higher energy density and is poised to be the moneymaker of the world battery materials market in the coming years.

Lead Acid Batteries: Lead acid batteries are the oldest, most mature form, of batteries for energy storage, and the technology is relatively cheap and widely available. But the chemistry has its barriers, including lower energy density and heavier weight. Some entrepreneurs are trying to breathe new life into lead acid battery technology, including Axion Power, a Quercus Trust-backed startup working to blend ultracapacitor tech with old-fashioned lead-acid batteries for a lead 2.0 device.

Fuel Cells: Fuel cells produce electricity through an electrochemical conversion, and can be quickly recharged by updating a fuel cell device with a new solution. Fuel cells have long been thought of as the holy grail of energy storage technology — for consumer electronics, vehicles and the power grid — but have so far failed to make it to mainstream commercialization. They may fare better in the power grid market, since the need for rock bottom prices in the gadget and car markets has been one of their biggest barriers. Bloom Energy is a high-profile startup working on a large-scale fuel cell that could help stabilize the power grid and promises to have its device ready within a year or two.