Electric Vehicles Could Crash the Grid, Unless ...

A team of scientists at the University of Vermont proposed one solution to what might happen if too many people plug in their electric vehicles at the same time.

by / February 24, 2014
In 2012, the city of St. Petersburg, Fla., installed electric vehicle charging stations thought the downtown area. Flickr/City of St. Pete

With each new technology that solves an old problem comes a new set of problems.Take electric vehicles, which are still a very small portion of the market in the U.S. with just 96,000 sold in 2013. But that share is growing, up 84 percent from 2012. If electric vehicles eventually become widely popular and almost everyone is plugging their car in after work, some worry it could crash the electric grid around dinner time. A team of scientists from the University of Vermont are looking to solve that potential problem.

The team’s solution would use smart meters and electric grids that can look at the whole picture to ensure that all connected cars are charging in an efficient way that won’t crash the grid. One plugged-in car could, for instance, charge for 10 minutes and then get back into line to allow another car on another part of the grid charge for a while to ensure a safe distribution of electricity.

"The problem of peaks and valleys is becoming more pronounced as we get more intermittent power — wind and solar — in the system," said Paul Hines, assistant professor at the School of Engineering, in a press release. "There is a growing need to smooth out supply and demand."

The team aims for a holistic solution that takes into account all drivers as a group, but for situations when people need power urgently, the scientists made an accommodation.

"We assumed that drivers can decide to choose between urgent and non-urgent charging modes,” the scientists wrote in a report to be published in IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid, a journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics. A driver requesting urgent charging would be put to the front of the line, but they would be charged a full-market rate, instead of the reduced rate that non-urgent chargers would receive.