SFIP’s Microgrid Systems Laboratory (MSL), in partnership with Member organization the University of New Mexico, is co-lead on a proposal to the National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Communities Program. The project, entitled “Integrated Planning for Public Transit and Electricity Distribution Networks, In an Era of Autonomous Vehicle Fleets,” also involves the City of Albuquerque and its new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system as a community partner, and is under consideration for $3 million in funding over a three-year term. This innovative integrated research project draws from UNM’s electrical, civil and mechanical engineering, computer science, economics, and architecture and community planning faculties, and includes behavioral, social, and data science elements.

Smart and connected communities everywhere will be affected by two major – and interrelated – infrastructure shifts, already underway: in the transportation sector, the shift to electric and autonomous vehicles (EVs and AVs) and fleets; and in the energy sector, the shift to decentralized and decarbonized electricity systems. Together, these will have profound implications for many aspects of urban planning and design.

This project will focus on creating planning tools to help mid-size cities (where subways are not viable) to design optimal, inclusive public transit services utilizing these new technologies, in such a way that they also support planning for resilient, sustainable electricity delivery. In particular, the team will optimize a hybrid system using BRT or light rail for main traffic corridors, combined with a first mile/last mile solution using Transportation as a Service (TaaS) through AV fleets. Such a system can offer economically viable, fast transportation for all – including those who live far from established mass transit routes and cannot afford individual or group ride-share options. When completed, the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) Central Avenue line will serve as an exemplar for BRT corridors.

As this transit system will likely be fully electrified, creating substantially increased energy demand, it will present both challenges and opportunities for a community’s electricity distribution system. The project will therefore also develop planning tools for optimizing the charging station infrastructure needed for both AVs and electric BRT buses, as well as managed bi-directional charging and discharging of vehicle batteries, so that they support sustainability and resiliency goals. This will include both normal operations and emergency scenarios, to sustain critical functions (including transportation) in the event of a power outage at the utility scale.

Project Deliverables

With an NSF award, the team will build a model of these interrelated infrastructures that can simulate the impact of various assumptions and scenarios, e.g., rate of adoption and use of EVs, AVs, and fleets; shifts in population density, demographics, and commuting patterns; design of mass transit routes and infrastructure; and resulting urban, land use, and parallel infrastructure planning impacts. The model will focus on a sub-set of Albuquerque designed to include a variety of demographics and transit needs, that will make it relevant for a large number of communities nation-wide, and access to the ART line. The model will concurrently allow for optimization of charging station locations and levels, and associated PV solar generation siting, with bi-directional charging for normal and emergency operations. This will present an important opportunity for collaborative planning between the City and its electric utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM).

In order to ensure maximum inclusivity, the team will also develop connectivity solutions for those who don’t have access to the Internet or own a smart phone, by prototyping simple landline- and kiosk-based access for the TaaS components of the system. Economic and behavioral research will consider the role of subsidies and payment systems, public and private sector roles, incentives for utilizing vehicle batteries as energy system assets, as well as the public perception of the system and the conditions for use.

Researchers and Partners

The project was initially conceived by MSL, and further developed with UNM’s Principal Investigator, to focus on the impacts of EVs at scale on the grid; and then finally, the community planning and public transit components were incorporated with the full research team:

UNM Principal Investigator: Andrea Mammoli (ME – Center for Emerging Energy Technologies)

UNM co-PIs: Renia Ehrenfeucht (CRP), Michael Devetsikiotis (ECE), Manel Martinez-Ramon (ECE), Eirini Eleni Tsiropoulou (ECE), Alexander Webb (ARCH), Gregory Rowangould (CEE)

External Partners: Microgrid Systems Laboratory, City of Albuquerque, Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, Siemens Building Technologies, Public Service Company of New Mexico

MSL will serve as the primary external partner coordinator, and with the PI will manage integration across the various research streams.