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PNNL Develops Plug-in Vehicle Smart Charger Controller for Managing Peak Demands in Grid

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have developed a Smart Charger Controller for plug-in vehicles that will automatically recharge 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.

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

—PNNL engineer Michael Kintner-Meyer

A previous PNNL study showed that America’s existing power grid could meet the needs of about 70% of all US light-duty vehicles if battery charging was managed to avoid new peaks in electricity demand.

The Smart Charger Controller is designed to provide that management. 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.

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