Grid ready for electric vehicles

Tom Molinski, manager of emerging energy systems and power planning at Manitoba Hydro, said 11 years of research has shown that a move toward electric vehicles will have little to no impact on overall power consumption.

Molinski expects more than 271,000 electric vehicles, representing 30 per cent of all vehicles in the province will be in the driveways of Manitobans by the year 2030. The vehicles are expected to increase demand for power from the provincial utility by a paltry three per cent over current levels of demand.

"People keep saying, ‘How are you going to handle it?’ Really, it’s not a big deal at all," he said. "It’s basically the equivalent of everyone getting an extra electric water heater in their home and, we are already managing (those types of additions)."

Anticipating the drain new electric cars will have on North American utilities has been a big concern for many as new plug-in electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Mitsubishi iMiev become available to consumers.

Molinski said Manitoba was particularly concerned about the impact electric vehicles would have on its power supply and began investigating the issue as early as 2000. He said Winnipeg was the first Canadian city to have an electric vehicle delivered for testing later that year. Since then the provincial power utility has collected reams of studies and data about electric vehicle use. Molinski and his team have studied buying patterns, daily driving routes, charging routines and many other factors.

One of the more recent studies presented to the province was conducted by Eric Bibeau, associate professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering at the University of Manitoba and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) chair of Alternative Energy.

Wireless monitors were installed on 76 electric cars in urban Winnipeg for the study, Bibeau told the Auto21 conference.

For a year, the monitors reported second-by-second data on location and charge levels. The information provided researchers with the equivalent of more than 100,000 days worth of driving data, providing a clear glimpse of how the public will use electric vehicles.

The study found that electric car operators tend to drive less than 32 kilometres daily, and a vast majority charged their vehicles between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Bibeau also found that for every dollar a consumer spends on an electric vehicle, the power utility must spend between two and three cents on increased generation and in other areas to provide electricity to that vehicle.

Bibeau said the next phase of his study will see monitors fitted on electric cars from homes outside the urban core to get a better idea of how commuters will use the vehicles.

Molinski said the study helped point to potential locations in downtown Winnipeg for public charging stations. But because people are primarily charging their vehicles at home, Manitoba Hydro won’t introduce anywhere near as many charging terminals as it had originally thought would be needed.

At $60,000 plus installation costs per charging terminal, Molinski said Bibeau’s work has potentially saved Manitoba millions.

However, Molinski also cautioned future electric car owners about the public terminals, saying access fees are the only way a utility can make such stations work.

"Charging in public will cost. You may only want $1 worth of electricity but you are going to pay $5 for it," he said.

Bibeau and Molinski’s comments came on the same day that the province of Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro announced a partnership with Nissan Canada to further determine how people will use their electric vehicle and more accurately pinpoint locations for public access charging terminals.

Other topics at the conference included new battery technologies to deal with colder temperatures and extend the distance an electric car can travel, as well as new methods of heating and cooling electric automobiles that use less power than current technologies.

The Auto21 2011 Conference was held at the Westin Hotel in downtown Ottawa on Thursday and Friday and was aimed at bringing together top researchers from across Canada to discuss new automotive technologies. Auto21, a Canadawide network of scientists, is funded by the government of Canada and has an annual research budget of $11 million.

Vito Pilieci,