Electrified transport

Issues at stake for EVs

By Philippa Martin-King

The price of oil continues to rise – it hit almost $120 in March 2011. As people become more conscious of the implications of climate change, so the motor industry looks to the EV (electric vehicle) as an alternative means of transport both for personal and for public use.

Drive for 50 km on 10 minutes' charging
Drive for 50 km on 10 minutes' charging

At present, transport uses only 1 % of the electricity produced globally. But before EVs can become widespread, there are a number of issues to be resolved. Energy distribution for the EV is a complex matter that involves not only the relevant hardware to allow fast connection and charge retention with efficient, safe and standardized plugs, sockets and batteries, but also the management of the electricity itself. For electric vehicles to become mainstream the supporting infrastructure needs to facilitate longer distance driving and fast recharging. It's a paradoxical situation because until there is sufficient demand for external out-of-the-house support, infrastructure is likely to remain sparse. Which will come first: the demand or the offer?

Charging from and feeding back to the grid

Concerning the charging itself how does one deal with sudden demand during peak electricity use hours? How can electricity demands be staggered to rule out fluctuation and take advantage of availability during slack hours? What possibilities exist or can be developed to feed excess battery-stored EV energy back into the grid when it is not needed by the vehicle?

The stakes in EVs are high and growing. The motor industry considers EVs as a key solution to provide sustainable transportation for people and merchandise while reducing emissions and dependency on fossil fuel. Manufacturers are constantly announcing new technical developments that, in one way or another, relate to electric vehicles.

One of the challenges behind the electric car, or indeed any EV, be it a bicycle, train or bus, is not so much in its use or in the storage of the electricity itself, but in its ability to deal with the distribution of the energy so that it is readily available, but in a way that does not impact the grid. The complexity of distribution depends on hardware, such as batteries and connectors, but also involves intelligence in terms of dealing with fluctuations of demand for charging, and possible energy feedback into the grid.

EVs a highlight at the 2011 Geneva International Motor Show

EVs were one of the highlights of this year's Geneva International Motor Show that attracted some 735 000 visitors. Most of the exhibitors, including Rolls Royce with its EE, the Experimental Electric Phantom, were proposing fully electric or hybrid models. At the same time, manufacturers had set up charging station demonstrations with explanations of fast-charge and medium-charge modules as solutions to overcome battery storage shortcomings.

Fully Networked Car workshop

For the sixth time, the IEC participated in the 6th WSC (World Standards Cooperation) Fully Networked Car workshop in collaboration with its partner organizations, ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and ITU (International Telecommunication Union), [See separate article on Driver distraction in this month's e-tech]. The opening speech of the workshop, which brought together experts in ICT (Information and Communication Technologies), environmental agencies, automotive directorates and industries from all over the world, was given by IEC Vice-President Enno Liess [See separate article on the necessity of Smart Grids for EVs in this month's e-tech].

In terms of energy efficiency and CO2 (carbon dioxide) reduction measures, EVs offer tremendous potential. The April edition of e-tech looks at some of the challenges facing the EV both in terms of distribution and availability of electric energy across the grid and as a solution to some of the environmental problems faced by the world today.

Experimental electric straddling bus Experimental electric straddling bus
Drive for 50 km on 10 minutes' charging Drive for 50 km on 10 minutes' charging
Philippa Martin-King, Managing Editor e-tech. Philippa Martin-King, Managing Editor, e-tech.