Electric cars must get smarter for a clean-energy grid to be possible

The people who own the cars? They do not have to be so smart, as long as they are smart enough to use a smartphone. That is one of the top-line findings of a test by the Electric vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated market using Sustainable energy and Open Networks (EDISON) consortium in Denmark. The study is billed as the biggest real-world test of how electric vehicles interact with an electric grid that is rich in renewable energy like wind power.

The results of the project show how VERGE technologies – the convergence of smart technologies for electrical grids, renewable energy, vehicles and homes and offices – need to evolve and expand adoption to make a low-carbon, clean-energy future possible.

The project, which is backed by the state-owned utility Dong Energy, along with Siemens, IBM and others, looked at EV usage on the Danish island of Bornholm. On the island, 33 per cent of the electricity comes from renewable sources. Most of that is wind energy, which tends to blow at night. The study found that to keep the grid from being overloaded, EVs must be charged at off-peak hours when there is excess generating capacity available on the grid and electricity is cheap.

And the only way to make that possible is to enable EV owners to ‘set it and forget it’ – let their cars and the grid communicate about the best times to charge.

The EDISON study started in February 2009. After more than two years monitoring the habits of 50 EV owners on Bornholm, which is home to about 43,000 people, the researchers concluded that only three to eight of the 50 vehicles could charge during peak demand hours in the late afternoon and early evening. Using smart charging techniques however, all the vehicles could be plugged in at night, charge at staggered times and be ready to go with a full charge in the morning.