A basic problem facing electric car buyers is that traditional gas stations outnumber charging stations. But Ohio State researchers are aiming to solve that problem, studying the best location for building electric-vehicle charging stations to help reduce the current shortage in Columbus.
Ramteen Sioshansi, an associate professor of integrated systems engineering, is researching the efficiency of and optimal locations for electric-vehicle charging stations as part of Smart Columbus — the Smart City program partly funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation that aims to improve the city’s transportation options.
“It’s sort of a chicken and egg problem,” Sioshansi said. “People are going to be reluctant to buy electric vehicles before there is charging infrastructure in place, but on the flip side, people aren’t going to want to build charging stations unless there are vehicles that are actually going to use them.”
Sioshansi said he believes the popularization of electric vehicles could help reduce consumer costs, decrease harmful environmental effects and increase fuel efficiency.
“Today, gasoline is about $2 to $3, in the United States, per gallon,” he said. “Comparatively, electricity is much cheaper than gasoline as a fuel.”
Electric vehicles don’t produce any emissions and thus pose less harm to the environment, Sioshansi said.
“In Ohio, coal plants are being replaced by natural gas plants, or with wind generators,” he said. “As this takes place, the production of electricity becomes cleaner.”
Peak energy usage occurs during the day, and most generators sit idle at night, Sioshansi said. If more people used electric cars, and charged them at night, then the energy produced by the generators wouldn’t be going to waste, he added.
However, to increase the popularity of electric vehicles, Sioshansi and his team must solve two immediate issues: the charging infrastructure and how to distribute the energy.
Electric vehicles usually need to be charged often, because of a lower travel range, usually of 80 to 100 miles. Gasoline vehicles can usually travel for 200 to 300 miles on one tank of gas. Charge time varies for electric cars, depending on the charger, ranging up to a few hours, Sioshansi said.
Part of Sioshansi’s research involved his team conducting a case study in central Ohio. By observing 1.1 million conventional vehicles’ route records, they found the best places to put charging stations.
“The optimization tool helps city planners or charging network designers to select the best set of stations from more than 200 candidate locations,” said Fei Wu, who holds a doctorate in integrated systems engineering and also a participant of the research.
The team also has to deal with the distribution of electricity at charging stations. The challenge is to enable a lot of vehicles to plug in at the same time without expensive upgrades, and to prevent charging malfunctions, Sioshansi said.
Sioshansi and his team are optimistic about the future of electric vehicles.
“I think what you are going to see in the future is that there will be more people who are not buying electric vehicles just because they are technology enthusiasts,” Sioshansi said. “But they are actually buying them because they are going to see there are environmental benefits, and there is a cost saving.”