As electric vehicles gain momentum as a way to combat dependence on fossil fuels, a West Virginia University researcher is looking for ways to develop a “smart grid” infrastructure that will keep them from causing their own drain on the nation’s power supply.

“Smart transit systems are not only an alternative to oil but they also have several advantages over conventional transportation systems,” said Sarika Khushalani-Solanki. “Those advantages include utilizing grid power, less volatile prices and lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

Khushalani-Solanki received a $322,501 grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct the research, which will focus on advancing technology by utilizing team expertise in power systems, operations research and transportation for an automated, sustainable transit system.

Her team includes Jignesh Solanki, also from the Lane Department Qipeng Zheng from the Department of Industrial and Management Systems Engineering and David Martinelli from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The team will work to identify optimization and control requirements for the transit system integration with the power grid, including scheduling and routing methods. She will also involve industry in researching possible solutions.

Khushalani-Solanki says a high concentration of electric vehicles on a particular feeder within the grid “can have a significant negative impact on the grid, but by incorporating a smart grid model, the potential to overload can be avoided.”

One possibility would have electric vehicles serving as storage devices, providing power back to the grid. But that could be hampered by transportation needs, and Khushalani-Solanki’s research is working at overcoming those obstacles.

“This inter-dependence of transportation and power needs requires the development of intelligent solutions to make the most efficient use of electric vehicles,” Khushalani-Solanki said. Renewable energy sources also offer possible solutions.



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