NSF Grant Makes Texas a Laboratory for Electric Vehicles

The Center for Transportation and Electricity Convergence was recently established and will be operated jointly by The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

Rendering of the planned EERC building

Dr. Travis Waller, an associate professor at the Cockrell School, will serve as director of the Center for Transportation and Electricity Convergence. Waller demonstrates to students how a new simulation program will be used at the center, which will be operated jointly by the University of Texas and Texas A&M University.

To insure a holistic approach for the use of electric vehicles, the National Science Foundation along with multiple industrial partners have established the Center for Transportation and Electricity Convergence operated jointly by The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

NSF and industrial partners have provided the initial portion of a $7.5 million grant eligible for renewal every five years for up to 15 years.

The center will study and recommend the best methods of integrating the power grid, new roadway networks and infrastructure systems for serving growing electric car demands.  Automobile manufacturers, electric utilities, and regulatory agencies will be strong future users and partners in the center’s work, as they prepare a systemic approach to the rapidly expanding electric car era.

“Indicators strongly suggest electric vehicles will grow into broad use within the next five to 10 years,” says Dr. Travis Waller, transportation engineering professor at the university and the first director of the new center.  “We want to assure these vehicles indeed offer the expected benefit of increased renewable energy use, improved energy security, and reduced traffic congestion.”

Rendering of the planned EERC building

Dr. Travis Waller, director of the Center for Transportation and Electricity Convergence, works on a computer simulation program that creates a model of a busy traffic intersection. A similar program with Texas roads will be used at the center.

The center’s research will address issues in six major thrusts: power systems, transportation systems, environmental studies, institutional issues/infrastructure development, societal/behavioral studies, and managed systems integration. The latter includes the study of information exchanges between the systems and electric car drivers, and the proposed incentives to influence electric vehicle traffic patterns.

The societal/behavioral focus is needed to study the electric vehicle owner decisions when facing business opportunities and potential incentives for participation in programs for energy efficiency, sustainability, and reliability, says Waller, who holds the Phil M. Ferguson Teaching Fellowship in Civil Engineering.

Three institutional issues were identified by the center and encompass the policies and regulations

  • to develop the infrastructure for electric vehicle charging/discharging,
  • to facilitate sound business plans, and
  • to permit a seamless integration of the transportation and power system into the urban environment.

For the first year, eight industrial organizations have pledged $40,000 apiece to participate.  These members will benefit from the center's research through direct involvement in the selection and definition of center research projects, as well as from prompt communication of the center’s findings, says Waller. 

As the center grows, many of the organizations which have expressed interest in the center through support letters are expected to formally join, which will strengthen its unique coverage of the power and transportation industries at all levels. In the electricity sector, future potential members include market operators (ERCOT, PJM, Midwest ISO) transmission and distribution companies (Center Point Energy, Oncor, BCTC), retailers (NRG) and municipal electricity suppliers (Austin Energy). The transportation sector will be represented at the state (Texas Department of Transportation), regional (NCTCOG) and metropolitan (City of Houston, City of Austin) levels, novel private enterprises (Innov8), as well as by combined state research/planning institutions (Texas Transportation Institute).

Currently more than 20 faculty members are involved in the center’s work, strengthening its necessary interdisciplinary focus.

Want to know more? A workshop sponsored by the University of Texas and Texas A&M University will be held Oct. 20 in College Station. Participants must register for the workshop, titled "Interfacing Electricity and Transportation Networks: The Role of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)