Drive down Ryan’s Mount in Harlow, Buckinghamshire during the middle of the day, and the chance are it won’t look any different to any other sleepy suburban street on the outskirts of London.
Drive down the same road early enough in the morning before its residents have left for work, and you’ll see something a little more unusual: nine brand-new Nissan LEAF electric cars, all parked up and charging at their respective homes.
Your street, electrified
As any electric car driver will tell you, seeing that many electric cars in one place normally means there’s a nearby electric car rapid charging station or perhaps a meeting of the local electric car owners’ club.
In the case of Ryan’s Mount and its residents however, this tree-full of LEAFs exist for another reason altogether: they’re part of a 250 car test program examining what happens when lots of electric cars live in close proximity to one another.
Enter My Electric Avenue, a joint venture between EA Technology, Scottish and Southern energy, Nissan, FleetDrive Electric, Zero Carbon Futures, Northern Powergrid, and the Low Carbon Network Fund.
Ryan’s Mount is one of eleven different locations around the UK where small clusters of electric cars are being tested to see what the real social, environmental and infrastructure impact of an electrified transportation future could be.
Administered by EA Technology, the project utilises existing on-board telematics technology fitted into every Nissan LEAF, as well as a network-controllable home charging station.
Joining them is Esprit, a technology developed by EA Technology to both monitor the electric car charging activities of the participants as well as control the domestic charging stations in response to demand on the local electricity grid.
Here’s how it works:
EA Technology’s Esprit software monitors demand on the local electrical grid, examining how much electricity is being used at any one point by the residents on the street. It also monitors the output from local utilities, temporarily halting charging when local demand peaks too much.
In this way, Esprit ensure that the presence of so many electric cars on a very localised section of the grid does not cause any form of brownouts or failures.
When multiple cars are charging at the same time and demand on the grid is too high, each charging station will be switched off in turn in short, thirty-minute intervals, ensuring no one car is left without the charge its owner expects it to have.
Esprit also collects data from participant’s Carwings accounts, examining usage patterns and charging behaviours to not only learn and anticipate the times of days when electric cars are being charged, but to ensure that no-one is left without enough charge to do their daily commute.
A case of management
As Brian Shewan of Scottish and Southern energy explained at today’s press launch, it’s far more cost-effective and less disruptive to efficiently manage existing infrastructure than it is to install new infrastructure. This is especially true when it comes to mid and low-voltage power lines — the very power circuits used to transfer power to customers’ homes.
With demand on the electrical grid already higher than it once was thanks to the gadget-rich home of today, it’s also increasingly important for utility and power transmission companies to understand exactly how and when power flows through their networks.
It’s no surprise then that utility companies — who stand to benefit a great deal from the dawn of the electric car revolution — are keen to help with exactly the kind of research being carried out by My Electric Avenue.
While My Electric Avenue undoubtedly attracted some participants to the program thanks to a headline-grabbing £100 per month lease deal for the 18 months of the trail, getting on the trail wasn’t as easy as finding room in your budget for that monthly payment.
As Dave Roberts of EA Technology explained this morning, in order to be considered for the technology part of the trial enthusiastic applicants had to encourage their neighbours to sign up for the 18-month project too. “It’s one thing to sign up for a trail yourself, but a whole different thing to convince your neighbours to join you,” he joked.
As a consequence, although more than two thousand people signed up as being interested, not everyone who raised a hand was able to take part because they failed to convince enough of their neighbours to take part.
Naturally, the project helped those enthusiastic hand-raisers to convince their neighbour by helping arrange test-drive events with local dealerships. So far, 111 cars have been allocated to the technical trial and 55 cars allocated to the ‘social trail’.
As EA Technology explained today, the social trail is made up of interested parties who haven’t reached the critical mass needed to take part in the technological trial but can help provide the study valuable usage data to improve computer modelling of future electric car use patterns.
From a total allocation of 250 cars, this leaves 84 cars still up for grabs.
We’ll be following My Electric Avenue over the next 18 months as the project progresses, and we’ll be sure to share any of its findings with you when we get them.
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