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Tipping Point

Industry giants start the EV revolution.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2010

the battery.”

A certified EVSE will require professional installation, but utilities are working to make the process easy for customers.

“It currently would take 30 to 50 days to go through the full process of having a residential charging installation,” Craver says. “You have to get the thing permitted and inspected— there’s actually many steps involved in getting one of these higher level chargers into the home. We’re trying to make sure we’ve got a process that’s as streamlined as possible.”

That’s not just a matter of customer satisfaction. Utilities need to know where on the grid the high-draw EVs will be, to avoid overloads on local transformers.

“If you own a plug-in Prius and you change it out for a Nissan Leaf, you might go overnight from a 1.4-kW, level-one, 120-volt charge to a 6.6-kW, 240-volt charge,” says Rowand. “It’s not the same as changing out one air conditioner for another.”

Despite such complexities, the collaboration around EVSE has been impressive. All parties seem genuinely proud of how effectively, and quickly, the various IWC stakeholders have been able to solve common problems. It’s a huge first step for making widespread EV adoption viable—and it’s something genuinely new.

“We didn’t have that with the last generation of vehicles,” says Gross. “We quibbled, and couldn’t agree. This was approached as a joint industry collaborative effort; that’s made a big difference. And the next big part to check off is where we’re headed with communication standards.”

Two-Way Data Highway

Realizing the true potential of EVs requires advanced wireless communication that allows utilities to manage these rolling batteries—to keep track of their location on the grid, control the time, speed and rate at which they are charged, and perhaps eventually control V2G functions. The IWC is working on it, but a communication standard is 12 to 18 months off. In a way, though, the timing is perfect.

“The great news is that what might look like confusion is actually a fantastic opportunity,” Gross says. “The utility sector didn’t have anything cast in concrete on the smart-grid communication protocols, and of course on our side it was a blank piece of paper, too. How fortuitous! This kind of luck doesn’t happen so often, where you actually have the ability to do the right thing from the start.”

The first generation of EVs and plug-in hybrids won’t be equipped with wireless that connects directly to utilities, although the EVSE can be networked to provide some load-shaping capabilities. Some cars rolling off the assembly lines can be set to charge at off-peak hours, much like a programmable thermostat. Managing charging for the Leaf even could be performed remotely via cell-phone interface with the vehicle’s navigation system.

Truly robust vehicle communication is a few years away—and for now that’s OK for both industries because it gives them a chance to work out the kinks. The need for advanced communication will grow, however, with the number of EVs on the road (see “Beta Testing Under Fire”).

“If you have 100 million vehicles in the near future, you want them all