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How to minimize the impact of electric vehicles on the grid ?

According to some projections, the widespread use of electric vehicles may require the construction of expensive new energy facilities to meet nighttime peak hours. Strategically placing EV charging stations and introducing mechanisms to start charging later could reduce or eliminate the need for new power plants, according to new research.

National and global climate change initiatives include increasing the electrification of cars and the share of energy produced from renewable sources. However, some forecasts suggest that this development may require the construction of costly new power stations to meet peak loads in the evening when cars are plugged in after work. Additionally, overproduction of a solar farm during the day can waste important electricity generation capacity.

Placement of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations

In a new study, MIT researchers found that it is possible to mitigate or eliminate both of these problems without the need for advanced technological systems of connected devices and real-time communication, which could increase costs and energy consumption. Instead, encouraging the placement of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in strategic ways, rather than having them pop up anywhere, and setting up systems to start charging cars at delayed times can be critical.

The study, which will be published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, was created by Zachary Needell PhD ’22, a Wei Wei postdoc, and Professor Jessika Trancik of MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society.

In their analysis, the researchers used data collected in two sample cities: New York and Dallas. The data was collected, among other things, from anonymized records collected through on-board devices in vehicles and from surveys that carefully sampled the population to cover a variety of travel behaviors.

They showed the time of day when cars are used and how long and how much time the vehicles spend in different types of places – residential, workplace, shopping, entertainment and so on. The findings, Trancik says, “paint a picture of where to strategically place chargers to support EV adoption and also support the electric grid.

Better availability of charging stations in workplaces, for example, could help absorb peak power produced at midday from solar power plants that might otherwise go to waste because it is not economical to build enough battery capacity or other storage capacity to save it all for later in the day. In this way, workplace chargers can provide a dual benefit by helping to reduce the evening peak load from EV charging as well as taking advantage of solar electrical output.

These effects on the electrification system are significant, especially if the system has to meet the charging requirements of a fully electrified passenger car fleet in addition to peaks in other electricity demand, for example on the hottest days of the year. If not mitigated, evening peaks in EV charging demand could require the installation of up to 20 percent more power generation capacity, researchers say.

“Slow charging in the workplace may be more advantageous than faster charging technology to enable higher utilization of midday solar,” says Wei.

Meanwhile, with delayed home charging, each EV charger can be accompanied by a simple app that estimates the start time of the charging cycle to charge just before it’s needed the next day. Unlike other designs that require centralized control of the charging cycle, such a system needs no communication of information between devices and can be pre-programmed – and can achieve the large shift in grid demand caused by the increasing penetration of electric cars. The reason it works so well, Trancik says, is because of the natural variability in driving behavior among individuals in a population.

By “home charging”, scientists do not only refer to charging devices in individual garages or parking areas. They say it is essential to make charging stations available in street parking lots as well as apartment building parking lots.

Trancik says the findings highlight the value of combining the two measures — workplace charging and delayed home charging — to reduce peak electricity demand, store solar energy and conveniently meet drivers’ charging needs all day. As the team has shown in earlier research, home charging can be a particularly effective part of a strategic package of charging points; They found that workplace charging is not a good substitute for home charging to meet drivers’ needs throughout the day.

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