TVA, EPRI launch Swiss Army knife of solar-powered car charging stations

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) on Tuesday unveiled their first electric vehicle charging station, which is powered by a photovoltaic array. The six parking space charging station also has monitoring equipment, 5 kilowatt hours of battery backup per space and can feed excess electricity produced onto the grid, making it a multipurpose energy station.

“These are unique in that they’re among the first to have a combination of all these features,” said TVA spokesperson Mike Bradley. He added that they’re designed to be modular, so they more charging stations can be added on. “The grid connection is to help smart-grid capabilities.”

The Smart Modal Area Recharge Terminal, or SMART station, is located at EPRI’s Knoxville Research Laboratory in Tennessee and is being used by researchers—at this point—to test how people will use the station to charge their electric vehicles. During a demonstration, the station charged electric vehicles built by General Motors, Mitsubishi and Nissan—the Nissan Leaf is built nearby, Bradley noted.

Bradley said the charging stations have 2.2 kilowatt arrays per space. The prototype has more than 12 kilowatts of photovoltaic panels. The vehicles being charged at the station use a standardized connection.

“The Society of Automotive Engineers has a standard connection for all U.S.-made electric vehicles,” he said.

While the first prototype is slated for research use, more stations and spaces are being built, according to Bradley.

“There are plans for 125 spaces and a dozen or more of these stations,” he said. “As these others are built, public availability and access will be added, and the research will continue.”

The system also is being looked at to see how it can help meet demand during peak usage. When the station’s 5-kilowatt-hour batteries are fully charged, they can supply additional electricity to the grid, Bradley said. The batteries serve both as a backup for charging the cars, but also condition the electricity they put back on the grid to meet the grid’s needs.

“We’re working with local distributors on the battery storage component,” he saidd.

Pictured: A Charge Station Designed by Johnston Marklee for ECOtality, courtesy of TVA.