The rapid adoption of smart software to optimize energy use at electric vehicle charging sites across the globe is creating new potential applications for distributed energy.
If all five million EVs in California were charged at once, it would “overwhelm the capacity of the grid,” said Raphael Declercq, executive vice president of France’s EDF Renewables Distributed Solutions, which Canary Media reports is using “adaptive load management” software to improve the efficiency of EV charging stations. But with better management, “they can maximize the production of clean energy on the grid.”
The software, developed by EDF subsidiary PowerFlex Systems, uses algorithms to “ensure that individual EVs are sufficiently charged to their drivers’ needs by the time they are ready to drive away,” Canary Media explains. It also ensures that the cumulative electricity load of all EVs being charged together “stays within the restrictions of onsite power infrastructure and utility demand charges.”
The software can also reduce the up-front cost of installing and operating EV chargers by about 60%.
A typical charging site can host more than 50 Level 2 chargers, each of them drawing up to 20 kilowatts of electricity. Often, the circuits and transformers delivering power to a given site can require significant upgrades to accommodate any new installations. By optimizing the charging load, adaptive load management helps EDF avoid lengthy and costly upgrades.
“PowerFlex allows EV drivers to inform the system of how long they intend to be parked at the charger and how much charge they’ll need by the time they leave,” explains reporter Jeff St. John. “It then modulates the total load across the EV charging fleet to ensure those needs are met, while also keeping the total load within prescribed limits.” The software also factors in time-of-use rates and demand charges, potentially reducing electrical bills by at least 25%.
While PowerFlex is mainly looking at adaptive load management as a way to expand EV charging infrastructure, it also points to EV charging as “a new resource for absorbing rising levels of renewable energy” and manage energy distribution in microgrids, St. John writes. That’s happening just as extreme weather, with its higher risk of power outages, drives up interest in microgrids.
“When we look at an electric vehicle, the first thing we see is a battery on wheels. It offers all the flexibility we’ve been longing for as energy developers,” Declercq said.
While EDF is not the only company developing energy management technology—others include Italy’s Enel X and U.S. based EVGo, Canary Media says—the new software has set PowerFlex up as a strong player in what has become a competitive field. Kelly McCoy, an EV analyst with Wood Mackenzie, said many companies in this field are working to integrate power management into their charging systems. The approach “does make sense,” she said, “particularly paired with solar and storage, so they can reduce peak demand on the site.”