EPFL gets its first fast-charging station for electric vehicles

EPFL’s fast-charging station includes an interactive screen where users will be able to select how they’d like to charge their cars. ©Alain Herzog/EPFL

EPFL’s fast-charging station includes an interactive screen where users will be able to select how they’d like to charge their cars. ©Alain Herzog/EPFL

A team of EPFL engineers, in association with local businesses and authorities, are testing novel algorithms for the deployment of greener EV fast-charging stations.

Electric cars can be great – except when you’re short on time to charge them. Fast-charging stations partially address this issue but doing so with renewable electricity and without stressing the grid is a challenging task. Thanks to technologies being developed at EPFL’s Distributed Electrical Systems Laboratory (DESL) and, its spin-off GridSteer, you’ll soon be able to charge your car fast and on a greener way. A new fast-charging station is installed on EPFL’s Lausanne campus, in collaboration with the EV charging stations operator GOFAST, with both station’s charging slots open to the public. The main idea behind the station is to try out an innovative solution being developed at DESL and GridSteer and investigate new business models for electrifying Switzerland’s transportation sector. Once those solutions are validated at the EPFL, activities will be moved to a larger demonstration site in Aigle joining forces with the local utility company Romande Energie and the Community of Aigle.

While fast-charging stations have the obvious advantage of cutting the time needed to power up an electric vehicle (EV) to just half an hour instead of about 8 hours, they also put a lot of pressure on power grids. Charging an EV on this type of 150 kW station draws the same amount of power as all household appliances in 300 apartments running simultaneously. If people across a city were to regularly plug in and unplug their EVs from these types of stations, that would cause huge swings in the load on the power grid. What’s more, demand for electricity already looks set to increase in Switzerland because of the shift from combustion engines to EVs, affecting a power grid already challenged by the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Power grids must be able to keep pace with this evolution in the transportation and power sector if Switzerland is to meet its energy and climate targets.

Interactive screen

In an effort to smooth the load on power grids and help operators efficiently manage fluctuations in supply and demand, DESL and GridSteer engineers are conducting research that pools their skills in three directions: day-ahead power generation and demand forecast, day-ahead planning, and real-time control for power grids incorporating renewable energy and fast charging stations. The project is being led by DESL head Mario Paolone and supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy through its Pilot, and Demonstration program.

EPFL’s fast-charging station includes an interactive screen where users will soon be able to select how they’d like to charge their cars – either quickly or by favoring a more ecological and local electricity. Engineers will enhance this station with optimization control algorithms that are able to fulfill simultaneously more than one objective. For instance, industrial prosumers might be interested in managing local energy sources efficiently, improving the use of self-generated power, reducing the peak load on the grid, controlling local grid voltages, and/or managing congestion on power lines. Grid operators might be also interested in regulating primary versus secondary distribution, and/or providing reactive power support to the upstream power grid.

A second station in Aigle

The project team plans to build another GOFAST fast charging station in Aigle in January 2022. These stations will be connected to a feeder hosting not just solar power, like the one at EPFL’s Lausanne campus, but also hydropower available in the region. It will consist of eight charging slots with four chargers in total as well as a high-capacity battery energy storage system of 2.5 MWh.

The pilot tests of these fast-charging stations are being conducted as part of a larger EU-funded project called Multi Energy Storage Hub For Utility (MESH4U), which is being run by a consortium of businesses and universities from Poland, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. The goal is to develop next-generation systems that incorporate different kinds of energy-storage technology. MESH4U engineers will create planning and operating algorithms for multi-energy storage systems, which are replicable and scalable and allow for dynamic, flexible and safe control. By enabling the technology developed under MESH4U to be applied to a wider variety of systems and uses, the algorithms will be helpful for grid operators as well as energy producers and consumers.