Preparing Buildings for Electric Vehicles

March 11, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

electric_vehiclesEnergy managers of buildings with garages have a harder job than those that let people park on the street. For instance, the mandate to keep the air in the garage safe and comfortable is the subject of ever-changing regulations and evolving technical options.

These folks gradually are being given a new responsibility, which will grow in importance over time: Operating electric vehicle charging stations. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, AT&T and Schneider Electric said that they have developed a proof of concept that the companies say will enable charging stations to more closely conform to the use patterns in the building and integrate into its power infrastructure.

It is a virtual certainty that the percentage of electric vehicles will grow over time and, experts say, energy managers should begin doing their homework. “From a building management’s perspective there are a lot of questions,” said Pierre Sacré, the Director of Electric Vehicle Solutions for Schneider Electric North America. “[For instance,] what do these charging stations look like? How much load will I add? Do we have to have a [separate] charging station network? There are questions that come from a reward perspective: Do I charge employees, or is it free?” And, he added, if it is free, would employees who pay for their own gas have a gripe?

The key to meeting this challenge is creating infrastructure capable of amassing and processing huge amounts of data. The Internet of Things, the cloud and big data analytics are at the heart of this. It is useful to see the AT&T/Schneider platform as one example of the impact of the IoT, the cloud and the big data engines within those clouds. It is part of a bigger mosaic.

Mobeen Khan, the Executive Director of Product Marketing Management in IoT Solutions for AT&T, points out that the IoT/cloud/big data ecosystem is horizontal. This means that everything – from electric vehicle charging stations to microgrids to smart sensors that dim lights in unoccupied rooms – can be a part of the same mesh. Thus, the lights going out in office X could be taken as the system as a sign that car Y will soon be needed.

In the building context, there could be systems that, for instance, go into employees’ scheduling calendars and find that the individual has an offsite meeting at a certain hour at a place an hour away from the building. This intelligence could be meshed with information from the vehicle that it doesn’t have enough electricity to get to the meeting and back. Thus, how charging his or her car is handled that day – from where the driver is instructed to park in the morning to the level of priority it is given compared to other vehicles that need to be charged – can be adjusted. This data comes from different systems and must be meshed in real or near-real time. “I would call them horizontal platforms” Khan said.

The companies said that it is too early to say when the platform will be commercialized. It is clear, however, that electric vehicle charging stations are something that building and energy managers of facilities with garages must think.

In the AT&T/Schneider vision, the stations will have more than one power level. A fluid formula will be needed to determine the order of recharging and which power level to use. It is important that low battery power not impact the organization’s fleet. It is the sort of task that the IoT and the platforms into which the data it collects excel: How to most efficiently get all the necessary cars charged when each potentially must be ready at a different time. This type of intelligence will become increasingly important as the percentage of vehicles that run on batteries grows.

Other issues, such as how costs for the electricity are distributed between the company and an employee who is using his or her own vehicle for business purposes, will emerge as well. The tie-in to the BEM network will enable load distribution and other tasks that are designed to efficiently integrate what is both a large user of energy and one with complex use characteristics into the building system.

The bottom line is that handling electric charging stations is a topic that will grow in importance – and quickly. The AT&T/Schneider concept — which features AT&T’s Control Center, Flow Designer, M2X and Global SIM and Schneider’s EVlink — is one of what undoubtedly will be many approaches.

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