My ride? It’s a power plant
Electric cars could sell battery power back to the grid in an emerging plan called V2G – ‘vehicle to grid.’
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“If we have 200 vehicles in our fleet, they’ll sign a contract and start writing us checks,” Kempton says of the PJM grid operator.Skip to next paragraph
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At that point, his group will try to form a “coalition” of V2G-car owners that can provide PJM with one megawatt of on-demand power.
With Newark as hub, Kempton sees this first V2G coalition becoming a prototype for one day aggregating millions of cars nationwide into similar coalitions, each offering car owners a certain rate per hour to plug in their car.
“We’re still at the beginning of things,” says Ray Dotter, a spokesman for PJM, which serves 51 million people across 13 states. “There’s just this one V2G vehicle out there now – and we’re embracing it and its potential.”
A ‘chicken and egg’ problem
Many hurdles remain. Where will V2G vehicles and charging infrastructure come from – and who will pay for them? To be truly effective, V2G will require heavy-duty 240-volt plugs and connections similar to those on an electric dryer.
Also, while many utilities now embrace the idea of charging up plug-in hybrid cars – it’s a big new market for power after all – there is less enthusiasm over V2G. Safety concerns and the complexity of tracking power usage and assimilating power from potentially millions of vehicles is daunting.
“Utilities still need to understand the business case for V2G,” says Mark Duvall, a manager for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). “What are the requirements for hundreds of thousands or millions of vehicles all doing their thing with power coursing through the system?”
Automakers are another critical component. Detroit seems to be cautiously opening the door to both all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt – expected in 2010. General Motors and eight other automakers have plans for at least a dozen such vehicles to hit the market by 2012.But will they be V2G ready with the right plugs and software?
Yet even Kempton admits that none of the auto officials he’s spoken with seems particularly enthusiastic about V2G. Some worry that the battery life of vehicles will be lessened by constant draining and recharging.
“We are exploring many vehicle-to-smart-grid options,” Robert Kruse, head of vehicle engineering, hybrids, electric vehicles, and batteries for GM writes in an e-mail. Still, “the idea of using battery life to provide power to the grid is problematic at best.”
While retrofitting works for small fleets, large-scale V2G needs the support of automakers, says EPRI’s Mr. Duvall. But, they “aren’t going to do it until they believe the battery will last the life of the vehicle.”
Kempton acknowledges that battery life could be affected, yet notes that battery leasing and power management can reduce the risks and still make the V2G proposition pay.