Electric Road Trip

Chicago, a tough town for chargers

CHICAGO — We've been through dozens of cities large and small since the Electric Road Trip began almost a month ago. But none poses the challenge of placing electric-vehicle charging stations like Chicago's urban core.

Generally, more than 80% of EV charging happens at home. That's easy for car owners if they also own a garage where they can install a charger. But for condo and apartment dwellers in the asphalt jungle, there aren't a lot of options.

"If you don't have a garage, if you don't have a specific parking spot, it's a challenge," said Russell DeSalvo, manager of grid modernization at Commonwealth Edison, the Chicago utility that distributes electricity to 4 million customers.

One of two EV-related ComEd research projects underway takes aim at this dilemma. The project with the Chicago Department of Transportation is using a $50,000 grant to install up to a half-dozen EV chargers in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the city's South Side.

"The key piece of that is trying to enable charging for multiunit dwellings," DeSalvo said.

The EV project is part of a much broader body of research ongoing at ComEd's Grid of the Future Lab, a 1,300-square-foot research and development center located within the utility's training center in the nearby Bridgeport neighborhood.

Many of the projects are being readied for deployment in Bronzeville, where ComEd is building a microgrid approved by Illinois regulators last year.

The project, which received more than $5 million in U.S. Department of Energy grant funding and will serve more than 1,000 homes and businesses, will be complete next year and will connect to a second, neighboring microgrid at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

A goal of the project is to better understand how two microgrids can work together with solar energy and battery storage, DeSalvo said.

Yet another early-stage EV research project being undertaken with Virginia Tech and funded with a $400,000 grant is aimed at ensuring cybersecurity at extreme fast chargers, which can repower batteries at a rate of up to 350 kilowatts. The goal is to have fast chargers safely interact with the electric grid. "Every third-party connection we have is a risk to our system, so we're looking at how to make them more cybersecure," he said.

That project, too, will be sited in the future EV hub of Bronzeville.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
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