skip to main content

Charging the future with electric vehicles

5/18/2020 Emily Jankauski

Picture it. Sharing a vehicle and a charging station with your neighbor. That’s the future Eleftheria Kontou envisions.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering assistant professor is building a model to determine use scheduling for recharging hubs in communities in anticipation for widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

An electric vehicle charges at a local charging hub.
An electric vehicle charges at a local charging hub.

“We are at the part of the adoption curve, where few have access to that (electric vehicles),” Kontou said. “But in the future, as we are transitioning to the mass market, we would expect more residents from multi-unit dwellings and apartment complexes to own electric vehicles and therefore, we would need a set up to facilitate their vehicles’ recharging process.”

Kontou became interested in such efforts during her doctoral studies at the University of Florida while participating in an electric vehicle project with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She furthered her research during her postdoctoral position working for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The draw of electric vehicles? Driver benefits galore.

“(They) offer significant operational cost savings to drivers,” Kontou said. “Electrified fleets in our cities can significantly reduce tailpipe emissions in this manner while still being able to accommodate the daily activity needs.”

Perhaps the biggest question regarding electric vehicles is: Will they pave the path for automated and connected vehicles?

Kontou is certain that electric vehicles will drive shared ridership and decrease individual vehicle ownership, which she foresees being the case for automated and connected vehicles, too.

Eleftheria Kontou

“We envision in the near future that our cities would be essentially dominated by these vehicles that are not owned by a specific person, but they are shared,” she said. “We anticipate a gradual transition to autonomous and connected vehicles that is safer and should provide more efficient operations.”

In the meantime, Kontou’s facilitating an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and conducting transportation supply-demand modeling.

“We need to make sure we can design our systems in a way that electric vehicles’ charging profiles do not overwhelm our electricity grid so we can develop optimization models to manage charging,” she said.

Kontou’s ultimate goal is to ready both policymakers and the public for these big upcoming changes.

“This (her research) can hopefully provide more information, not only to the rest of the scholars so they can drive further scientific discovery, but also to the public and policymakers so they can better understand how these future innovations and technologies are expected to impact the transportation sector, energy use and the environment,” she said.