The number of electric vehicles (EVs) around the world is projected to reach 35 million by 2022. Beyond the challenge of designing and manufacturing the vehicles themselves, all those EVs need a robust, smart charging infrastructure.
Enter PowerFlex, a Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) cleantech start up that developed an adaptive load management technology to be used with electric vehicle charging systems. The technology is built on the company’s Adaptive Charging Network (ACN) algorithm that monitors a building’s available onsite generation and load and adjusts the power and timing of its EV charging stations, accordingly. The system reduces a building’s peak power need according to pricing signals, building load, and EV drivers’ preferences, which are captured via drivers’ mobile apps.
Validating the Technology
As part of its IN2 project, led by Andrew Meintz at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the PowerFlex team installed 16 Level 2 chargers and 1 DC fast charger at NREL’s Flatirons Campus, near Boulder, Colorado, in February 2018. The team wanted to evaluate its technology and to generate metrics to determine how to make the system most cost effective.
“IN2 facilitated sharing technical expertise across technologies and teams at NREL,” said NREL researcher Willy Bernal-Heredia. “And, with the cross-team demonstration project, we were able to collect real data and make economic forecasts.”
The demonstration project on the Flatirons Campus determined that PowerFlex’s technology could successfully manage charging power to ensure that the campus stayed under capacity and demand requirements while still meeting the EV drivers’ expectations. Additionally, the analyses showed potential operational cost savings of 37% and peak charging load demand reduction of 29%, specifically for a building with on-site PV generation.
The numbers caught the attention of NREL’s Facilities and Operations group, in part because NREL’s campus energy management strategy aims to optimize operations, minimize impacts, and reduce costs.
Tailor Made for NREL
Its interest piqued, NREL conducted a competitive solicitation for an EV charging system. Ultimately, PowerFlex was selected to provide charging infrastructure on NREL’s South Table Mountain campus.
“PowerFlex offered the best value with the technology that met our energy management requirements for load sharing and peak demand management and a at competitive price,” said Lissa Myers, Intelligent Campus Project Leader at NREL.
NREL contracted with PowerFlex to purchase the PowerFlex enabled chargers and in May installed 108 PowerFlex supported charging stations on its STM campus. Combined with the 16 chargers it purchased for the Flatirons campus, NREL now has a total of 124 PowerFlex operated and managed chargers. Other than chargers used in specific research projects, PowerFlex is now the sole provider of EV charging technology on NREL’s campuses.
NREL is in good company. The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA campus, and the Caltech campus all sport PowerFlex operated chargers. The interest in the technology has grown to the point that in September, EDF Renewables North America acquired PowerFlex Systems to complement its strategic growth in the distributed energy market.
An IN2 Success Story
The IN2 project was only a part of the PowerFlex success story, but it was critical according to Chief Technology Officer, George Lee.
“We were an early IN2 cohort company. We were thrilled with the R&D funding and the opportunity to work with NREL,” Lee said. “NREL helped develop the pricing structure for drivers, taking into account specific requests and looking at load management.”
For its part, NREL is appreciative of the partnership, too. Meintz is happy to have the PowerFlex powered chargers as part of the living laboratory that is NREL. “We are able to continually demonstrate and document the benefits of smart charging. It’s nice to see the project continue in that way,” Meintz said.
The NREL team called on experts from across technologies – buildings, transportation, sustainability, information systems, and analysis – to validate and install the new chargers. The team represented a microcosm of the real-world expertise that will be required to meet the demand for electric vehicle charging that is growing around the world.
IN2 helped make it happen.