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E-Car Charger Company Licenses National Lab Power Technology

Plug-in electric vehicle (Idaho National Lab)

(Idaho National Lab)

AeroVironment Inc., a developer of electric transportation systems in Monrovia, California, licensed technology from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington that keeps electric car chargers from over-taxing the electrical power grid. Financial aspects of the licensing deal between AeroVironment and Battelle Memorial Institute, which operates PNNL for Department of Energy, were not disclosed.

The PNNL technology, called the Grid Friendly EV Charger Controller, tells the battery in a plug-in electric vehicle when to start and stop charging based upon existing conditions on the electrical grid. AeroVironment’s new prototype charging station, that incorporates the PNNL technology, is designed to continuously monitor the grid’s alternating current frequency and vary the vehicle charging rate in response.

If an unexpected event on the grid causes a rapid drop in the alternating current frequency, the system will stop charging, thus relieving some of the drain off the grid at that time. This stabilizing technology will become more important, says PNNL, as the power grid is relies more on variable renewable resources such as wind and solar power. The technology is also expected to translate into lower bills for vehicle owners, since charging will take place during off-peak hours when rates in some jurisdictions are lower.

“If a million owners plug in their vehicles to recharge after work, it could cause a major strain on the grid,” says PNNL lead engineer Michael Kintner-Meyer. A study at PNNL study indicates the current U.S. power grid could meet the needs of about 70 percent of all U.S. light-duty vehicles if battery charging was managed to avoid new peaks in electricity demand.

Alec Brooks, chief technology officer of AeroVironment’s division developing the electric vehicle charger sees several advantages to the technology. “First, reducing the cost of integrating variable renewable generation reduces the electricity costs for all ratepayers,” says Brooks. “Second, plug-in cars can be powered by renewable generation that might not have been possible to add to the grid without the charging rate flexibility offered by vehicles and this technology. Third, the reduced cost of electricity to plug-in vehicle drivers will further improve on the cost advantage of driving on electricity as compared to gasoline.”

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