ComEd Wants To Know Where You're Charging Your Car

Electric Utility companies want to know where motorists are charging their electric cars—which could mean permit requirements for some chargers or smart-grid applications that alert utilities when a car is being charged.
"You add one of those 240-volt charging stations to one of our transformers and it's okay. You add another one—we're getting close. A third one and I've got a problem," said Mike McMahan, ComEd's vice president for smart grid and technology.
"So we just want to make sure there's enough capacity. That's why we want to know where that charging station is."
An executive from another utility, Ameren Illinois, agreed with McMahan Monday at a panel on electric vehicles at the Great Lakes Symposium on Smart Grid at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
"It's like the air conditioners in the 70s," said Michael Abba, Ameren's manager for smart-grid integration. "It's another load. We want to know about it."
ComEd has suggested requiring permits for the installation of 240-volt charging stations, with utilities notified as part of the process, but "that hasn't been received too well," McMahan told about 35 people assembled for the panel.
But charging stations could do the job themselves—alerting a utility company when a car is being charged, according to Gary Rackliffe of AAB Group. With a smart grid, utility companies could respond by deferring, reducing, or even shutting down the charging of individual vehicles if the grid reaches capacity.
"In an ideal world, we would be able to control those charging stations and have revenue-grade metering of those charging stations."
Revenue-grade metering would encourage motorists to charge their cars overnight, rather than in the evening when the grid is at peak capacity.
According to McMahan, ComEd is only concerned about 240-volt fast charging stations and not slow chargers that use 110-volt household current:
"One-hundred-ten volts—you just plug it into the socket, no impact on the grid. It's just another appliance as far as we're concerned. If you go to the level 2 charging station, called a fast charging station, 240 volts, now we do care about that."
But Rackliffe said even 111-volt charging stations can strain the electrical infrastructure if electric cars become much more popular. ABB conducted a study of charging station locations in Sweden, he said, and found:
"Up to 10 percent penetration of electric vehicles, there's no problem. Once you start to get beyond 10 percent you will have potential problems, especially in summer."
Right now the U.S. is at a 2.5 to 3 percent electric vehicle adoption rate, according to McMahan. Although many pundits see the Obama Administration's electric vehicle initiatives as a disappointment, the adoption rate is exactly where it was projected to be in a study by the Electric Power Research Institute.

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