An EV Charger that Forms a Small Household Microgrid?

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Can an EV charger multi-task? Researchers at Kettering University in Michigan say they are creating an EV charger that will do far more than give our cars a zap of electricity.

201208_electric_avenue_003Kettering reports that Nelson Wang, co-founder of Carbon Zero Advanced Research (CZAR), has come up with a ‘smart’ charger that he compares to a cellphone.

“A long time ago, we only used cellphones to make calls,” Wang said. “But now, most people use their phone as an entire system. We want to apply that idea to the charger. It will potentially have a big impact on society.”

The charger would act as a hub connecting several energy sources — the battery, the storage system and the electric utility. Wang described it as forming “a small micro-grid system.”

“Once successful, this technology will allow renewable energy to be connected to infrastructure, thereby charging vehicles more economically,” said Kevin Bai, associate professor of electrical engineering at Kettering. “It will promote future microgrid development, resulting in a less centralized grid. So, for example, if a blackout happens, this charging technology would allow a house or vehicle to still have access to power.”

The charging technology is bidirectional in power flow and accepts inputs from the solar power to charge EVs or other battery systems.

The research team, which began work in March at Kettering’s Advanced Power Electronics Lab, has fully tested the system and is now working on making it more efficient and increasing its power density.

Some of the initial tests have been promising, including showing about 96 percent efficiency, according to a news release issued by Kettering.  Researchers also are working to connect the charging station to the Internet, so that drivers can obtain the location of the charging station through their phones. They’d also be able to monitor the usage of solar energy generated versus the amount of energy used from the grid and calculate the real cost for electricity used.

“We’re developing a charger for electric vehicles, but the key differentiation from existing charging technology is we’re trying to make it ‘smart,'” Wang said. “No one else has a charger like what we’re developing. We think of it differently — we want it to be communicating with renewable energy sources, like solar.”

CZAR Power says investors have expressed interest from Japan and China. More details are here.

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

Comments

  1. Elisa, LREV has designed GreenPort™ wich is a residential scale facility that creates a microgrid utilizing 10KW SolarMill -HYBRID renewable NRG generation in combination with ample storage capacity for a family of 6 +an EV… all behind the meter.
    First pilots are set for Q2-2016.
    I will be releasing more information at a later date
    Chas Malloy – CEO
    LREV | lighthouse route energy ventures

  2. I’m contemplating buying a Nissan Leaf, but I’m confused by this post’s description of the relationship of solar to an electric car. My car is seldom at home during daylight hours. If I have PV on my roof and I’m not home, how will it charge my car? Isn’t it just as good to use the solar to run my “always on” appliances like refrigerator, and dump the rest into the grid, displacing high-carbon sources? Why is it better to have it go straight to my car? Does the climate know the difference? And if I live in place with net metering, will my wallet know the difference?

  3. @Matt, according to the article, the smart charger supports bidirectional power, which means it has to have an AC power inverter. It would be relatively straight forward to connect solar panels behind the inverter (matched to inverter’s capacity). The PV could charge the EV battery (and/or another battery as noted in the article) and provide backup power during an outage (requires separate backup load panel & automatic transfer switch). During nominal grid-tied ops, the PV would operate like any other grid-tied system. However, I can’t imagine it making sense to try to retro-integrate this type of system with an existing PV array.

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