New sister Interoperability Center opens in Europe

December 11, 2015

As electric vehicle sales continue to rise around the world, the European Union opened the first European Interoperability Center for Electric Vehicles and Smart Grids last month to make sure all these cars have a standard plug and equipment that can work anywhere.

The new center in Ispra, Italy, is part of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre and is a sister location to the U.S. Electric Vehicle-Smart Grid Interoperability Center, which opened at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in 2013.

The goal for both centers is to help write codes and standards and to create and demonstrate equipment to ease the transition as electric vehicles become more popular globally.

Argonne Director Peter Littlewood spoke at the inauguration, describing it as a unique opportunity to "collaborate on technologies that will lead to cleaner, smarter and more integrated transport and energy on both sides of the Atlantic."

The past 15 years have seen more and more car companies releasing hybrid and electric models, but especially in the early days, their charging equipment and plugs weren't uniform.

"The ultimate goal is to have a completely interoperable charging structure across the world," said Argonne's Keith Hardy, who leads the U.S. center. "The plugs can be different, but we can coordinate the communication protocols."

At minimum, the car has to talk to the charging station for identification, authorization and billing, he explained, and to determine how much energy the battery needs and how fast it can be charged.

Hardy said the communication will be more sophisticated in the future and could include driver preferences, such as a specific time that the charge needs to be complete (e.g., when you want to leave for work), charging only when the electricity price is below a specified limit or even waiting until renewable energy is available.

"Most control signals, power and safety requirements are harmonized for AC charging in Europe and the U.S.," Hardy said. "Standards committees expect to complete DC standards in 2016." They're also working on wireless charging.

In the two years since it opened, the Argonne center has drafted international standards for electric vehicle interoperability testing and equipment. They also develop physical devices, such as a universal electronic module to connect vehicles and other devices to the grid.

Vehicles also need to be able to talk to the grid, Hardy said, to help utilities maintain service as more cars draw electricity.

"We also want to harmonize vehicle and battery test procedures," Hardy said, so that results are similar even when tested in different labs. Right now, Argonne is testing a reference vehicle--a BMW i3 range-extended electric car--and then will ship it to Italy to compare results and procedures in their lab.

Hardy said the two centers plan to exchange researchers as well as vehicles and instrumentation in the future.

"This helps make sure our work in transportation and the grid has maximum impact around the globe," he said.
The Argonne center is funded by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy's Vehicle Technologies Office; the European center is a Joint Research Centre laboratory funded by the European Commission.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

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