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Charge It

Battery-powered transportation is becoming more popular, but where will we charge these vehicles when they are not plugged into the walls of our homes?

By Meaghan Ziemba, Associate Editor, PD&D

We’ve seen the commercials, concepts, prototypes, and actual products. Yes, the electrical vehicle has entered the market, and as gas prices continue to climb, battery-power transportation is becoming more popular among consumers. Question is, where will we charge these vehicles when they are not plugged into the walls of our homes?

General Electric (GE) has the answer: the GE WattStation, which is an easy-to-use electric vehicle (EV) charger expected to release next year in the United States and Europe. The Watt station design will help accelerate the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles by decreasing the time needed for vehicle charging. It will utilize smart grid technology that will allow utility companies to manage the impact of electric vehicles on the local and regional grids.

“The residential WattStation’s easy functionality and design allows for uncomplicated integration of quick electric vehicle charging into your everyday activities,” says Michael Mahan, global product manager for GE WattStation.

A Suite of Options

GE plans on releasing a whole suite of products that provide various options for different charging environments. “The product line will include a residential wall mount, a public pedestal, a public pole mount so you can mount it to a light pole; and a back-to-back version that has two charging ports on a single pedestal, so you can charge more vehicles in less space,” says Mahan.

Later in the year, GE will launch somewhere around 40 to 50 different EV charging products for a variety of different applications.

Key Elements

Each charging station has a charging control board that communicates with the vehicles that are plugged into the charger. “When you plug in the vehicle, it gets charging status; it knows whether or not to start charging or not start charging; it will stop charging the battery if the charging is complete,” says Mahan.

The control board also has a lot of safety features where it will cut power to the cord if anyone removes the cord before the charging is complete. The control board is designed such that power will never activate until the cord is plugged into a vehicle, and receives a signal back from the car saying it’s ready to accept the charge.

According to Mahan, there is also a series of protection components that include: ground fault protection, standard electrical protection components, and an electrical contactor; all devices that GE has been making and incorporating into other devices for years.

Quick Charging

Different vehicle models have different battery sizes, which determines the charging time of the vehicle. “Widespread electric vehicle adoption depends on having charging stations that integrate the need for quick charging with the personal need for easy functionality,” says Steve Fludder, vice president of GE ecomagination.

Being a level two charging station, the GE Wattstation operates at 240 volts and 30 amps. “A 24-kilowatt hour battery, which is found in a Nissan Leaf, would take four to eight hours for the battery to charge completely,” says Mahan.

Incorporating into the Grid

For residential homes, consumers can add a dedicated circuit to their load center that is already present in their homes. “We recommend a 40 amp circuit,” says Mahan. “You would run cable from the load center to the charging station, allowing consumers to feed it off their existing home-powering system.”

 Once introduced to the public, GE plans on incorporating a credit card reader so consumers can pay for their charge-time when parking on local streets. Alternatively, some businesses are open to offering free charging time as a way to attract more customers to their stores.

Not Just a Charging Station

With a robust communication system, the GE WattStation can communicate with a variety of utilities, demand response systems, building management systems, and consumers’ smart phones and other personal devices. It also has an innovative cord management system that actually retracts the cord back into the unit, preventing it from lying in city streets causing a nuisance.

“We built the WattStation to be modular and upgradeable,” adds Mahan, “so as technology changes, customers can swap in different components without having to purchase a new charging station. This allows cities to make an investment in these units, and help them be confident that they’re not going to end up with obsolete equipment as technology and standards change.”

By providing the full suite of products of electrical infrastructure, distribution equipment, and the charging stations, GE optimizes the system that will work better for consumers when they do the full installation, giving them a competitive edge in the EV industry.