If you live in a regular suburban detached home, the chances are that your electricity bill is metered by the kilowatt-hour, with your monthly or quarterly bills detailing the number of kilowatt-hours your house has consumed. If you’re lucky, you might even get a discount for the electricity you use during off-peak hours, something that’s particularly useful if you have an electric car that charges overnight.
But unlike your standard domestic customer, large skyscrapers in cities like New York are charged not only for the electricity they use but the rate at which that electricity is consumed. In other words, if a skyscraper suddenly has a surge in power demand — such as all of its residents turning on the kettle or all of the electric cars in the parking lot suddenly starting to charge at the same time — it has to pay a higher tariff than if that same electricity was consumed over a wider time frame.
As a consequence, companies like GE are keen to try and utilise smart grid technology to help large skyscrapers better manage their power use, smoothing out the peaks and troughs by intelligently switching off or on appliances and high-energy consumers that aren’t needed all the time.
Now GE’s smart grid technology is being used to help large buildings offer electric car charging stations in their parking lots — without suddenly causing their instantaneous power usage to spike.
As Wired reports, GE is testing a smart-grid electric car charging station that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to figure out total building power demand throughout the day and restricting charging power as required to avoid going over a set peak energy threshold.
Capable of factoring in things like the weather, time of day and holiday periods, the artificial intelligence attached to each building can predict building power usage throughout the day as well as charging station demand. It then throttles the power flow to each charging station as required to ensure a more even power consumption is kept throughout the day.
During peak hours, for example — when all of the building’s residents may be home cooking supper or preparing breakfast in the morning — the charging stations can reduce charging rates down to a few amperes or even suspend charging temporally. During night-time or the middle of the day — when energy use is less — the charging system instructs the smart charging stations to deliver full power.
Eventually, the system could be rolled out at skyscrapers across New York, but for now, GE is operating two pilot projects: a five-charging station installation at FedEx’s New York depot where five electric delivery trucks operate a daily, predictable route; and one at GE’s Research Center Headquarters in upstate New York.
GE says the system is still in its infancy, but eventually the system could be used to save large electric vehicle fleet operators or large residential units with a large number of plug-in vehicles tens of thousands of dollars every month in saved peak energy usage bills.
As for those who really need their car — and really need a full battery pack? GE says the system can be overridden to ensure no car is left stranded.
But as Wired points out, there’s one big challenge to the whole system right now: at the time of writing, it doesn’t integrate with the cars themselves, which means the charging stations aren’t aware of just how full each car’s battery pack is. And that’s some much-needed functionality should the system ever become widely adopted.
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