Electric vehicle owners can get zapped in a flash at a new solar-powered, ultra-fast electric vehicle charging station at the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Burnaby campus.
The OASIS station is part of an experimental electricity grid at BCIT that could change the way we generate and use power in the future. Researchers have transformed an ordinary parking lot into a bank of solar panels above two lanes of parking, with several electric vehicle charging stations underneath.
OASIS was designed to answer a question, said Hassan Farhangi, director of the college’s Smart Microgrid Applied Research Team.
“What’s going to happen to our electricity grid if five, 10 years from now when we have tens of thousands of electric vehicles roaming our roads and they need to have very fast high-power charging service,” Farhangi said.
The BCIT station can charge vehicles in just 15 minutes compared to eight hours. While there are a few other fast-charging stations across Metro Vancouver, Farhangi said the BCIT station is “the most advanced and capable in Canada.”
British Columbia, with its hydroelectric dam system, has relatively stable electricity generation. But other jurisdictions are having more difficulty providing the electricity demanded by customers, while many rely on emissions-intensive sources like coal. Those are the systems that are going to need to think about how to provide more electricity for new technologies like electric vehicles, Farhangi said.
BCIT has been working on the microgrid since 2007. Its infrastructure dots the college’s Burnaby campus, from a building whose roof is covered with solar panels to a demonstration three-storey house with a wind turbine and smart appliances.
Renewable energy, like solar and wind, is always going to be intermittent, Farhangi said: the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. So BCIT’s campus-wide renewable energy infrastructure includes some important components to manage the stop-and-go nature of renewables.
Farhangi’s team of researchers use Panasonic’s newest generation of lithium ion batteries to store energy, and software to manage electricity demand, cost and storage.
“We also use our storage system here so that we could play around with the amount of energy available to us at different points in time and try to maximize the amount of energy that we have,” he said.
“For example, if during the night there is very little load around and the electricity from the grid from BC Hydro can be supplied at very low cost, we charge our batteries during the night when there is no load so that during the day we can use that electricity together with the solar energy we are using to charge our cars.”
Another important concept Farhangi would like consumers and policy-makers to think about is “the finite-ness of energy, and the best ways we have to adapt to maximize our use of this energy without impacting our environment.”
Car drivers have been used to filling up a full tank of gasoline when they may need much less for their day-to-day needs, Farhangi said. But to emphasize that energy is not unlimited, charging stations at BCIT ask electric vehicle owners a series of questions designed to give them the portion of energy they need for their specific car and trip.
“Creating that level of optimization between the amount of energy that you’re producing and the amount of energy that you’re dispensing is at the core of this set-up,” he said.