Thinking Tech

A SMART charging station for electric cars

Posting in Design

It's designed to smooth the load on the electric grid of charging cars with solar power.

This charging station is being built by the Tennessee Valley Authority and some of its partners, including the Electric Power Research Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and several power distributors.

The TVA and EPRI are giving away the station's design.

The canopy on this station is made of solar photovoltaic panels, because sunlight is the most reliable renewable energy source in Knoxville, where the first station is being built.

Batteries -- lead-acid batteries for now but eventually old lithium-ion car batteries that are past their prime -- will be used to store energy and smooth the load on the electric grid of using an energy source that fluctuates with the weather to charge several cars at once. (SMART stands for Smart Modal Area Recharging Terminal -- each charger handles two cars.)

But engineering the charging station was the easy part, says John Halliwell of EPRI. The hard part was dealing with two zoning codes and two zoning boards -- one for the business park and one for the tech corridor that overlays it, neither one taking precedence over the other -- to get permits to build the station. The zoning boards had never come across a charging station before, and they learned as they went along, just like Halliwell learned about local politics.

"Expect the process to take months. Expect the unexpected," he said. "Hire a professional -- an architect or a surveying company -- to handle this process, which can be very complex. Be able to explain clearly what you're doing and why. Expect to meet a lot of new people."

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Deborah Gage

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Deborah Gage has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Minnesota Public Radio, Baseline and various magazines and newspapers. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure