EV + renewables crucial to sustainability says prof


The technology needed to sustain an environmentally friendly grid exists. What is needed are experts who are driven to research these technologies, teach others about their benefits, and incorporate them into the public sphere.

University of Denver Professor David Gao fits the profile.

“My main goal is to make use of energy from nature,” explains Gao, whose present work focuses on renewable resource utilization and efficiency issues.

Gao’s research delves into renewable energy, electric power systems, smart grid technology, and hybrid electric vehicles.

His long-term goals include contributing to the development of the energy grid, eco-friendly cities, clean energy, renewable energy, and efficient utilization of resources.

“I hope to improve and develop an environmentally friendly grid and energy technologies,” he says. “I would also like to develop wind energy, solar power, and smart grid, in order to improve energy efficiency and power quality.”

Gao has received more than $650,000 in funds from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Electric Power Research Institute, in order to conduct his research. The funds will be allocated over a two- to four-year period.

If we can make best us of the sun, we don’t need any other resource, nothing other than solar power utilization.
–David Gao, University of Denver Professor

He has participated in reviewing several chief journals and conferences including IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology, IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, and the IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid.

Most recently, his research has focused on the development of a wind power control system design and wind integration strategies.

“I do wind power research to develop controllers to better handle wind power integration into the utility grid,” explains Gao.

Gao is interested in designing the most efficient tools to utilize the fuel available through nature, such as drawing energy from the sun to provide power for electric vehicles.

“Solar is the ultimate future and energy saver because the earth receives more energy than is consumed per minute from the sun,” he explains.

Student research, and campus goals
Gao earned his Bachelor of Science from Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi’an, China, and then continued his education for his Ph.D. at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

Now, Gao teaches at the University of Denver (DU) in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. So when he’s not conducting research or attending conferences, he is helping DU students with solar power evaluation projects using software programs.


Hopefully, solar panels will soon be installed on the roof of the building he works and teaches in, in order to expand student research, he says.

“Using energy storage to help the utilization of wind, and also solar power, students at Tennessee Tech developed kW solar power station panels and installed them on campus,” Gao notes.

Prior to when Gao started teaching at DU in September 2010, he taught for four years at Tennessee Tech University, where students were actively engaged with sustainability development on campus.

“At Tennessee Tech the students pay a fee for sustainable campus projects, such as using EVs on campus,” says Gao.

DU students could use the solar panels to design controllers needed for battery charging, which is applicable to charging EVs from solar energy.

Some people don’t like taking space from neighborhoods, for the solar panels for instance, but I think it’s very beneficial for society.
–David Gao, University of Denver Professor

Gao thinks the DU campus is a great place to focus on developing the link between solar and EVs.

“Maybe we should prepare for the future of EVs, with things like EV friendly parking structures,” says Gao about the DU.

Gao suggested that DU install solar panels at its major athletic center in order to offset electricity usage, or construct a parking garage with a solar structure that could be used to fuel vehicles. The solar parking structure could be used to charge faculty-owned EVs as well as utility vehicles used on campus.

“We can work together to apply for grants in the goal of a sustainable campus,” says Gao, who thinks that sustainable technologies are essential for all communities.

“Some people don’t like taking space from neighborhoods, for the solar panels for instance, but I think it’s very beneficial for society,” he says.

Gao emphasizes the endless energy available through the sun, and that if we can develop an efficient way to harness that energy source, people will not need to seek any other source for fuel.

“If we can make best us of the sun, we don’t need any other resource, nothing other than solar power utilization.”

Furthermore, developing a sustainable college campus can influence the surrounding communities to make changes too.

“I think we need to do more public involvement to let people know the benefits of solar energy,” Gao explains.

EVs and PHEVs
Gao also has high hopes for plug-in vehicles and their potential to help us create a more sustainable world.

“PHEV is a kind of transition for certain period of time before battery technology has a dramatic improvement,” says Gao of the move toward a world that may eventually be dominated by pure electric vehicles.

“Right now, batteries can take you 60 to 70 miles, not 200 miles, with a full charge,” he notes.

Unless you have a very expensive battery, electric vehicles are not capable of driving further, adds Gao.

“Mass production for batteries for EVs still needs time before we get to that point of 300 to 400 mile ranges, so we will have to use PHEVs until then, so that gasoline can help extend driving range,” says Gao.

In addition to range issues, there is also the question of the impact of EVs on the electric grid.

We can use wind power to produce EV or PHEV energy. On the other hand, we can use PHEV energy storage as a resource to help renewable energy integration.”

–David Gao, University of Denver Professor

“Charging systems need to be researched and developed to be utility friendly, so we don’t cause power problems for utilities,” Gao says.

Not only should the charging system be developed in order to charge EVs, but also to store energy from various renewable resources, says the university professor.

“Eventually, we can use millions and millions of PHEVs as storage to integrate more renewable energy. For example, wind and solar. We can use wind power to produce EV or PHEV energy. On the other hand, we can use PHEV energy storage as a resource to help renewable energy integration,” Gao says.

Though he does not drive an EV yet, Gao says that EVs have many benefits.

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“They are good for the earth because they have less impact, and lower emissions than (gasoline) cars,” he notes, as he discloses his plan to buy an electric bike soon.

From Gao’s point of view, the only drawbacks to EVs are the high cost and the lack of charging facilities.

In order for the cost of EVs to lower and the charging facilities to grow, public energy and support is needed.

“We need to do more outreach,” Gao explains.

“In Tennessee, I went to a state annual fair, which was three days long, and worked at a booth to do outreach, handing out posters, and set-up models about solar and wind power. People showed a lot of interest. I think this type of outreach can help people accept new technology and gain their support,” he says.

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