November 21, 2010 in Business

PNNL’s charger unit a smart buyer

 

RICHLAND – It’s like a personal shopper for electricity.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed smart technology for electric cars that might someday automatically recharge the car when power loads are smaller and power is cheaper.

PNNL scientist Michael Kintner-Meyer last week debuted a revamped hybrid car using the smart charge controller at the Richland facility. He plugged a cable from a charging column into the car and said cellular technology in the column could communicate with an electrical grid.

An owner would park the car and punch in what time the car needed to be recharged. The controller then checks how much of a charge the car needs and waits until there is either a high level of power on the grid or not much power being used. Then it would start charging. These decisions could be made second by second as power levels changed.

Kintner-Meyer said power companies would reward customers with rates based on how much power is available at that moment, as a way of encouraging a more level use of energy. The new technology developed at PNNL will save money for the car owners.

One of the difficulties with wind and solar power is that the level of power they generate fluctuates throughout the day and night. The sun sets. The wind stops blowing.

“That provides a lot of challenges for grid operators,” Kintner-Meyer explained.

A smart grid will help even out the use of power to match the flow of electricity coming in.

The Obama administration has set a goal of having 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015. Kintner-Meyer said that could cause problems for the electrical grid.

If those owners drive home in the evening and plug in their cars, it would put a strain on the electrical grid. But technology that waits until there is a lull in power use could mean power utilities would need to build fewer power plants to meet the additional need for electricity for the cars.

The Nissan Leaf, the first widely available, 100 percent electric car, is soon debuting. The Chevrolet Volt also is coming on the market in 2011.

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