EV infrastructure offers expansion, diversity for innovative utilities

EV infrastructure offers expansion, diversity for innovative utilities

Opportunities abound for participation, including building public charging stations, installing home charging sites and establishing self-service EV systems in urban areas

By Ann Chambers, Assistant Editor

Electric vehicles (EV) are a much discussed and debated transportation option these days, but one thing is becoming clear. The EVs are coming. In fact, in a few forward-thinking areas, they have already arrived, if in limited numbers. Electricity generators and suppliers are going to have to meet this new load as it enters the mix. For developed countries, this will be the first new major electric load in many years. It is an opportunity to implement demand-side management concepts and to diversify services. It is also a challenge and a bit of a guessing game.

France is the leader in the European community, and possibly in the world, as Electricité de France (EDF) stepped into the fray early with pilot tests, manufacturer and governmental partnerships, and utility diversification. EDF has more than 20 years of experience in research and development of battery-recharging systems and engines.

The utility recently completed a (US)$5.7 million three-year study of various aspects of EV technology. It is backing research to improve performance of lead/acid, nickel/cadmium and lithium/polymer batteries. EDF has developed a recharge terminal system and is working to perfect rapid recharging. It is also instituting a self-service car program.

In 1992, the Ministers of the Environment and Industry co-signed a framework agreement with the chairmen of EDF, Peugeot Citroen and Renault to develop the EV. Twenty-two pilot cities in France are experimenting with EVs. To make EVs more attractive, EDF and other partners are implementing a battery rental network to help customers stagger the expenses.

As a utility that generates and distributes electricity, EDF is developing the EV for personal use or as part of a company car fleet, in response to the French public`s interest in reducing air pollution in cities, along with the corresponding reduction in noise pollution.

Battery development

Research is focusing on three goals–extending the service life of batteries, improving energy efficiency and shortening the amount of time required to recharge the batteries. A special test lab has been set up in the EDF laboratories outside of Paris to recreate battery conditions encountered in everyday use, making it possible to compare different batteries and to evaluate their performance in EVs. An on-board intelligence module measures voltage, temperature and current of the battery to ensure that it is functioning as efficiently as possible. The module stores the battery`s history in its memory.

Currently, to travel 1 mile, you would need 10 kg of a lead battery, 6 kg of a nickel/cadmium battery or 2 kg of a lithium/polymer battery. The Eureka Elégie program–including members such as ABB, Siemens, Renault, FIAMM, SAGEM and EDF–is studying the components for a second-generation EV, particularly a rapid-recharge system called the Elégie Rapid Accumulator Recharge Terminal, which can recharge to 50 percent of total range in less than 15 minutes. The entire procedure takes place while the engine is off, for safety. The universal system can be used to recharge all types of batteries through an interface with the vehicle`s on-board intelligence module.

Urban service

EDF is working to implement a self-service car program, intended to help reduce congestion and traffic-jams in urban areas by providing electric cars that can be used by several different drivers during the day. Several communities in the UK are also considering the option.

The system is based on the use of small electric cars in reserved parking lots in the city center. Cars are available for members who have subscribed to the system and who possess a payment card which gives them access to the cars. Each car is fitted with an automatic charging system that connects to the car and initializes the charging process.

Self-service has three main advantages–it makes it possible for users to enjoy EV advantages without the purchase expense; it reduces pollution and congestion in urban areas; and it provides a partial solution to parking problems by reducing the number of vehicles necessary in cities. This program is being carried out by EDF, Renault and the Compagnie Generale Francaise de Transports ed d`Entrepreises. An initial fleet of 50 Renaults is being tested in a Paris suburb.


Several organizations are working to standardize terminal/vehicle and system/terminal interfaces throughout Europe and the world. Organizations involved are: The Technical Union for Electricity, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission. Future standards are expected to:

– standardize the terminology used in recharging EV devices, including connection equipment and the vehicle components;

– identify the systems used to protect people from electric shock;

determine the electrical, mechanical and electro-mechanical characteristics with which the vehicles will have to comply, as well as the features of the accumulator recharge terminals; and

– make recharging compatible in most countries.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and various automobile manufacturers in the US are also working for standardization. “With EV infrastructure, the goal is to avoid the VHS vs. Beta problems we saw with early videotape technology,” said John Wallace, Ford EV program director. “By choosing one standard system of charging, automakers will assist utility companies responsible for the installation of the EV-charging network.”

SCI Systems Inc. recently unveiled a prototype conductive-charging system for home use with a unique, but standardized, plug. The system was developed to meet specifications from seven auto manufacturers, a variety of electric utilities and the California Air Resources Board, all of which have been working together as part of a council sponsored by EPRI.

Capacity considerations

EDF reports that even if France had 1 million EVs, each traveling 10,000 miles annually, no additional power plants would be needed. Currently, French EVs average 2,000 kWh annually, so total EV consumption for 1 million cars would be between 3 billion and 4 billion kWh, less than 1 percent of all power now generated in the country.

EPRI reports that most EVs are expected to be recharged during off-peak periods in the US as well, especially at night; and they should, therefore, substantially improve overall utility system utilization factors, helping to lower electricity costs. EPRI recommends that any utility interested in optimizing the opportunities presented by the coming EV market, study the situation in its area to ascertain the volume and likely location of EVs.

A study is recommended to determine whether any limitation exists in generation, transmission or distribution capacity that would limit the utility`s ability to service the projected number of EVs. It is most likely that the generation capacity will not be a limiting factor in serving the EV load.

Recharge options

In a private garage, a simple electrical outlet, protected by a high-sensitivity circuit breaker, is sufficient equipment for EV charging. For a parking space in an apartment building garage, more complicated charging setups could be required.

In public areas or private parking lots open to the public, interactive terminals that can be used to control and pay for recharging via special plugs may be needed. This option is necessary for providing recharges for users under all circumstances. The major electrical equipment companies are developing special terminals to recharge cars in public parking in about eight hours.

Installation of fast-recharge terminals, which are five to 10 times more powerful than an overnight charging system, need to be installed to recharge a vehicle on the verge of running out of juice. A one-minute charge at such a terminal would give enough power to travel two to four kilometers. These terminals are recommended for company fleets where vehicles are in high demand.

Postal proposition

Electric Fuel Corp. and the Deutsche Post AG are field-testing Electric Fuel`s zinc-air battery system. The Deutsche Post, which operates the largest postal vehicle fleet in Europe, is testing 64 EVs in fleet operations in Germany. The first six vehicles were recently delivered during the ribbon-cutting for a new zinc regeneration facility in Bremen, a key component of the test.

Mercedes-Benz and GM Opel, partners in the field test, provided the first vehicles. Three Mercedes-Benz MB410E vans were equipped with 150-kWh Electric Fuel zinc-air batteries, enough on-board energy to drive 210 intercity miles with a full cargo; and three Corsa Combo pickups from GM Opel were fitted with 75-kWh air batteries, giving them a top speed of 80 miles per hour.

The regeneration plant, which will be used to produce zinc cassettes for the field-test batteries, will be operated by Stadtwerke Bremen AG, the municipal utility of Bremen, and will have the capacity of 100 kg of regenerated zinc fuel per hour to support the test vehicles.

Partners in the test also include Deutsche Telekom, Webasto, Municipality of Meinz, Federal State of Bremen, City of Hamm, the Swedish Post and Vattenfall–Sweden`s largest utility. The Deutsche Post and Deutsche Telekom have stated intentions to equip up to 25,000 and 15,000 of their respective vehicles with the zinc-air technology upon successful completion of the field test.

Johnathan Whartman, Electric Fuel vice president, said in a telephone interview, one of the advantages of the zinc-air batteries is their resistance to cold weather. “Many batteries do not perform well in cold climates, but the zinc batteries are barely affected,” he said. These batteries are not recharged; they are refueled. The zinc in a zinc cassette combines with oxygen from outside air, creating zinc oxide. When the zinc has all turned to oxide, the vehicle goes to a service station, where the spent cassette is removed and a fresh one snapped in. The cassettes then go to a recycling plant, where they are restored to their original zinc via electricity. The plant then emits the oxygen it removed from the cassettes.

“This is a test project to compare costs and economies of scale in an attempt to determine the best way to set up an infrastructure for these vehicles,” Whartman said. “We are currently considering a compromise between having one for every fleet and having one per country. More likely, we will have one plant per larger metropolitan area.”

These batteries are built from 20-kWh modules of 66 zinc-air battery cells connected in series. The modules can be arranged in any combination of series and parallel connections and in any practical quantity, according to the requirements of the vehicle and motor. Each cell has a central static anode bed of “fuel,” which is a slurry of electrochemically generated zinc particles in a potassium hydroxide solution compacted onto a current collection frame and inserted in a separator envelope, or cassette, flanked on two sides by the company`s high-power air cathodes. Cell capacity to 80-percent zinc use is 250 amperehours in this design.

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Electricite de France is working to promote the development of an EV market in its territory, welcoming the new technology and its off-peak demand with open arms.

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Recharging options are numerous, from residential garage hookups for overnight charging, to quick-charge service stations, to special cassettes which can be popped out and replaced instantly.

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On the left, Opel Corsa Combination pickups, and on the right, Mercedes-Benz MB410E vans with the slogan “Unser Test fur die Umwelt,” or “Our Test for the Environment.” The vehicles` arrival marked the official kickoff of a 64-vehicle program at the German Postal Service. The vehicles are using the Electric Fuel Corp. zinc-air battery system.

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