Grant Enables Research into Efficient Charging Solutions for Electric Vehicles

September 22, 2017 at 4:20 pm

Dr. Ona Egbue

A University of South Carolina Upstate faculty member is working to ensure that, as the number of plug-in electric vehicles grows, the nation’s power grid will be able to handle the added demand.

Dr. Ona Egbue, an assistant professor-engineering technology management, in the University’s Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering, has secured a National Science Foundation grant of more than $363,000 for a forward-looking three-year project titled “An Integrated Framework for the Optimal Control of Vehicle-to-Grid Systems.”

“The problem arises when there is a connection of a large number of electric vehicles to the electric grid” Egbue explained. “As an example, think of a large electric vehicle parking lot: If the lot is full and every car is charging, this could present some challenges in terms of how to manage this increased electricity demand. However, if managed well, this scenario can present opportunities, particularly in a smart grid.”

Egbue’s work will focus on vehicle-to-grid systems where electric vehicle batteries can be used to help balance the demand for electricity against the supply.

“Actually, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that you’ve got that extra load from all the vehicles you have to charge,” she said. “It can actually be a good thing, because they can act as energy storage sources for the grid.”

For any system to be successful, however, Egbue said the needs of the car owners must be a primary consideration.

“The customers and their needs are really critical to the success of the system,” she said. “If I am a customer in a vehicle-to-grid system and I am consistently unsatisfied with the service I am receiving, then I’m not going to use that system anymore, because it’s certainly not working for me. So we’re looking at different perspectives, from the electric utility, the owners of commercial charging facilities, and the customers as well.”

Current research fails to consider the many complexities and perspectives of the various stakeholders involved in a vehicle-to-grid system, Egbue said.

“By taking a systems approach, this study addresses the current gap in the research on [plug-in electric vehicles’] integration into the power grid which focuses narrowly on solving problems from the electric utilities’ perspective or fails to consider multiple perspectives,” she wrote.

The award began Sept. 15 and will end Aug. 31, 2020. As the principal investigator, the grant provides Egbue with an opportunity to embark on a study that has long interested her.

“I started studying electric vehicles as a Ph.D. student” she said, “but I’ve always been interested in energy efficiency and the power grid, so I’m excited to study these very important topics — electric vehicles and their integration into a smart grid — to determine how to make the system sustainable”

Egbue said the grant will be a collaborative project with a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth.