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V2G: Vehicle to Grid Will Change the Whole Energy Picture

RP Siegel | Tuesday July 20th, 2010 | 5 Comments

The big issue with solar or wind energy, our brightest hopes for a clean energy future, is the fact that they come when they want to, which isn’t always when we need them. And electricity is not something that you can simply stock up on when it goes on sale, like lemonade or laundry detergent. But changes in our transportation sector, driven by the increasingly visible costs associated with petroleum use, might just back us into a very convenient solution right at the heart of the problem: namely, electric storage.

Imagine this scenario. You pull into the parking lot at work. After locking up your car, you connect up to the meter for that parking space and swipe a card that identifies you and confirms your default charging profile which includes a number of preferences such as what time you generally leave work, how much of your battery charge you are willing to make available, how many miles you generally travel after work, and such. The meter displays this info and asks if there are any modifications for today. You respond, then go in and get to work. Around noon it is very hot. The power company pulls power from your car’s battery, helping to meet the surging demand for air conditioning, while making sure not to take too much. Later on, you get a call from the spouse, telling you that Junior has a soccer game and you need to stop by. That means you’ll need to leave earlier and driver further than you had thought. No problem. You quickly go online and make the adjustment to your charging profile. The power company restores more than enough of your battery charge in time for you to leave. It also issues you a credit for the use of your car’s storage capacity, which exceeds the cost of the power returned, ensuring that you make a small profit on the transaction. Then when you get home that night, you connect up to another meter in your garage, which sends the grid what it needs, while making sure that you have plenty of juice in your battery to make it through the next day

Sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? Okay, I admit I made some of it up. The actual particulars are all very much still being worked out. To be sure, not everyone will want to be on such intimate terms with their power company. But overall, the idea is very real and it is coming, not today or tomorrow, but sooner than you might think. And there are a lot of reasons to be enthusiastic about vehicle to grid because the synergies that result from integrating our power and transportation sectors in this way, will result in efficiency gains for both. The availability of batteries from the millions of parked electric cars will provide an enormous storage reservoir for renewable energy with which to power our homes and businesses. At the same time, it will make owning an electric car far more convenient and allow plug-in hybrid owners to use far less fossil fuel. And it will do something else, too. It will remind each and every one of us, every day that we are all connected, and that we are all part of the problem and part of the solution.

A new edition of Zpryme’s Smart Grid Insights (sponsored by ZigBee Alliance), features V2G or vehicles-to-the-grid. This 73-page report is based on extensive research on market data and forecasting models in the automotive and utility sectors, as well as government targets and programs. They project that by 2020; there will be over one million V2G vehicles on the road with an estimated market value of $26.6 billion. In addition, they forecast a $6.7 billion infrastructure market, and a $10.5 billion technology market, for a total of $43.8 billion. That’s going to take a lot of jobs to create. Hopefully, a lot of those will be American jobs. The US portion of that market is estimated at $12.7 billion. Annual revenue by then will be $2.9 billion.

It’s also going to take a lot of creativity. According to experts at the University of Delaware, who contributed to the study, “Business models for how to use this colossal energy storage resource practically and profitably will be coming up like mushrooms after the rain.” Other report contributors include Ford, Coulomb Technologies, Austin Energy, Plug-In America, Grid2Home, Electrification Coalition, and the Smart Grid Library.

The projections focus on the time period from 2015 to 2020, when vehicles sales are expected to grow from 100,000 to one million. That will represent only 1.2% of the total market at that time. But it will be growing fast. Global growth rates are estimated at 59% for vehicles and infrastructure and 47% for technology.

The key enablers of this transition will be the Smart Grid, and the evolution of high performance vehicle batteries. We wrote about the promises of Zinc-air batteries in this space last week.  Those were not mentioned in the report, because the authors were focusing on near-term activities. Additional enablers will undoubtedly emerge as this transition takes place, though these two are likely to remain the most critical.

According the study’s authors, “The Gulf of Mexico oil calamity could become the most pivotal event in the history of the EV (electric vehicle) and ultimately V2G; it has prompted (in some cases forced) the automotive sector, power utility industry, governments, and consumers to revaluate its footprint in the energy space.”

These developments are just beginning to appear on the horizon, and while they will dramatically affect the way that we interact with our energy providers and give us more responsibility and control of the way we use energy, they will also add up to a more reliable energy system, with a significantly smaller carbon footprint.

RP Siegel PE, is both an author and an inventor, so making up scenarios is something he spends a lot of time doing. His latest book Vapor Trails, (co-authored with Roger Saillant) is the first in a series of sustainability thrillers that highlight the unsustainable nature of the systems that provide us with energy, food, and water.

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