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Smart Case Study: Electric Vehicles and ‘Load Flexible’ Charging in Seattle

Electrical Vehicles are considered the predecessors of the next generation of trending transportation. Automated vehicles may be on the streets of smart cities soon. Before that bridge is crossed, hybrid and electric cars have become bigger players in a slow adapting market.

Smart cities are expected to be high on electricity consumption, leaving the need for generation of this electricity also at high levels. Distributed generation is a solution to this issue. Distributed Generation is a concept by which electricity is produced and dispersed at the point of consumption. By this method, it is possible to reduce the load off commercial power suppliers and power plants, while making use of smaller sources to feed into the grid.

Smart cars can be divided into two major categories; Hybrid electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The cars have a fuel powered engine that is supplemented by an electric motor and the motor is powered through high capacity batteries, sometimes powerful enough to run a house. Most of these cars, and any car in that case is kept parked over 95% of the time, allow a lot of time for power transfer between the car and the grid. The car can power the grid and the grid will keep the car charged at all times.

The market for Electric Vehicles has not garnered much demand as of yet, but studies show that the industry is worth investing in.

Take Tesla, for example. The electric car maker does not expect to turn a profit until it is in full production mode, by the end of the decade. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO stated that,

“The need for sustainable transport is incredibly high,” he said. “Even in the face of massively declining oil prices I think it only becomes more urgent that the industry advance its development of electric vehicles. It’s really just a question of when it goes fully electric, and if it goes sooner that will be good for the world.”

Case Study: Electrical Vehicle Charging in Seattle

In a smart city environment, advanced car and alternative fuel technologies command the streets. Initiatives such as Plug In America help to promote electric vehicle usage. It posts the federal incentives provided to electric vehicle users in the US.

One city in the United States is starting to think forward about the future of electric cars. It is going to be taking full advantage of these innovative modes of transportation.

The city of Seattle, Washington has made outstanding progress in smart technology with a focus on smart car charging. Seattle metropolitan area claims fame to having 8% of the nation’s electric vehicle sales, making it one of the 5 metro areas dominating the market.

The Seattle City Light utility company is tasked with increasing the awareness of the benefits that electric vehicles offer its citizens, while also providing more charging options for them. Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) 2nd annual Electricity Innovation Lab (eLab) helped the utility launch a program advocating for further adoption of electric vehicles and technologies.  394 permits for AC, level II electric vehicle charging stations have been issued by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development.

In a blog, RMI wrote about the vision of Seattle City Light to increase the number of public charging stations. Then, citizens may see more benefits of investing in electric vehicles as they would have a port to charge at, outside of their personal home. Charging these electric vehicle batteries is based on various criteria (including electricity prices and renewable energy output) to maintain sufficient battery life to fit the driver’s needs.

Across the city, Seattle City Light hopes to implement a smart charging system called ‘load flexibility’, indirect control of energy demands based on the cost, to enhance the benefit to consumers. The idea is currently in the preliminary stage as the utility plans to pilot a small smart-charging port in the upcoming months. Following the pilot, plans will be made to install the smart-charging systems on a wider scale.

However, implementation of smart-charging across the Seattle may be stalled. State policy barriers restrict a utility company in what does with ratepayer funds. This does not hinder the utility’s motivation to push an electric vehicle agenda. Seattle appears to have the best chance of paving the way for an electric vehicle future.

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