July 30, 2004
Will Electric Hybrid Cars Be Used As Peak Electric Power Sources?

Future hybrid cars may be used as "Vehicle To Grid" or V2G power sources to meet peak electric power demand.

But if automakers were to make 1 million next-generation V2G vehicles by 2020, they could generate up to 10,000 megawatts of electricity - about the capacity of 20 average-size power plants, according to a 2001 study by AC Propulsion, the electric vehicle maker in San Dimas, Calif., that created the V2G Jetta.

While vehicles could generate plenty of power - studies show they sit idle 90 percent of the time - it would be far too costly to use as simple "base-load" power. Their main value would be in supplying spurts of peak and other specialty "ancillary" power for which utilities pay premium prices. It would be far cheaper for utilities to tap the batteries of thousands of cars, say, than the current practice of keeping huge turbines constantly spinning just to supply power at a moment's notice, studies show.

With hybrids it wouldn't be necessary to start the engines of parked cars in order to use them as electric power sources. The hybrids have lots of batteries in them. If they plug in when stopped part of their battery charge could be drainied whenever a distributed computer network decided to switch them onto the grid. The switching could be fairly automated and used to deal with quick spikes in electric power demand.

Next generation electric hybrids will have electric power generation costs that are too high to compete with large electric power plants for non-peak electric power uses. But advances in fuel cell technologies will eventually provide a way to generate electricity cheaply than car internal combustion engines. Whether those car fuel cells can ever compete with natural gas or coal fired electric power plants remains to be seen. For more on that possibility see my previous post Cars May Become Greater Electricity Generators Than Big Electric Plants

Even if car electricity doesn't become cost competitive expect to see car electric power generators to become emergency back-up power sources. If a big grid failure happens 10 or 20 years from now we won't have to wait while the long distance electric power lines and switching stations are repaired. People will just plug houses into cars.

Aside about hybrids on the street: Quite a number of people in Santa Barbara California have Toyota Prius electric hybrid cars. I see them every day. One of the most curious aspects of the hybrids is that they are so quiet when running off of battery. As a result I've had to adjust my behavior a bit. You can't rely as much on the absence of an engine sound to know that a car is not coming when, say, doing a daily dog run up a street.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 July 30 02:20 AM  Energy Tech


Comments
Engineer-Poet said at July 30, 2004 5:42 AM:

I'm glad to see that you have discovered AC Propulsion!  Their V2G papers have been on their site for some time now, and deserve more attention than they have been getting.

Vehicles-as-generators is an idea that might fly for hunting cabins, but vehicular weight and bulk limitations, the higher cost of motor fuel plus the inability to cogenerate will make stationary generators more cost-effective for many applications.  The batteries of an electric or hybrid vehicle are another matter.  If they are typically connected to the grid when the car is parked, they have the potential to turn grid outages into non-events.  For example, the power surges which caused the cascading failures of 8/14/2003 could have been completely offset by routing power to and from on-grid vehicles in Ohio and Michigan.  This could have allowed a response to the problem over a fraction of an hour instead of a fraction of a second, or kept grid power up on both ends while load was re-balanced and the transmission line breakers reconnected.

Electric transmission is one of the technological weak points of our society.  We owe it to ourselves to develop and implement the technologies to make it fail-proof; it is one neglected component of our national security.

Bob Hawkins said at July 30, 2004 8:05 AM:

Remember the turbine-powered racer that Andy Granatelli entered in the Indy 500? ( http://www.sptimes.com/News/052000/Sports/Opening_salvo.shtml )

It was so quiet, people worried that the popularity of racing would suffer if turbines became the standard engine. What's racing without the roar of engines? It was suggested that cars should be required to make a certain amount of noise.

Maybe, for safety's sake, electric cars should be required to make some noise. No one predicted that cell phones would create a big market in ringtones. The market in enginetones could be even bigger.

TangoMan said at July 30, 2004 12:14 PM:

Batteries have a cycle life span. The more cycles they run through the less life left in them. The price of power sold to the utility will have to account for the cycle issue.

Fly said at July 30, 2004 12:48 PM:

Engineer-Poet: “Electric transmission is one of the technological weak points of our society. We owe it to ourselves to develop and implement the technologies to make it fail-proof; it is one neglected component of our national security.”

I strongly agree. As well as handling accidents we need to make the grid terrorist proof by having more reserve power and redundant transmission capacity. Companies presently have no economic incentive to build extra capacity. In fact considerable design effort goes into reducing “unneeded” capacity.

I really don’t know the best way to provide proper incentives. I’m reluctant to use government regulation. Often government rules add cost and complexity without achieving the stated goal.

The battery concept for peak load management and emergency power outages is interesting. Would increased energy cycling reduce battery life?

The utility company controls some power consumption. For lower rates a customer agrees that the power company can turn off the customer equipment for short periods during peak demand. Perhaps this concept could be extended.

The power grid is only one vulnerability among many. As of three years ago, almost all international communications went over fiber links in two manholes. No special clearance was needed to access those sites. (Cleaning crews had access.) Two thermite devices would wreak considerable havoc.

The US needs to be redesigning our infrastructure and institutions so the country can weather terrorist attacks. (Having stated the need, I have no idea how to accomplish the goal.)

TangoMan said at July 30, 2004 3:44 PM:

Fly,

Would increased energy cycling reduce battery life?

Both the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius use NiMH batteries. Of course a car battery system must be more robust than smaller, more easily replaced batteries, but this article shows some of the lifespan issues.

Engineer-Poet said at July 30, 2004 9:34 PM:

Fly writes:

As well as handling accidents we need to make the grid terrorist proof by having more reserve power and redundant transmission capacity. Companies presently have no economic incentive to build extra capacity. In fact considerable design effort goes into reducing “unneeded” capacity.
Which is as it should be.  Unused capacity is wasted capital; seldom-used capacity is highly unproductive capital, which is why peaking power costs so much (it has to be paid off).

The problem is that the system as it operates currently is very brittle when it gets to its limits.  Changes need to be made to make it more supple, to bend instead of breaking.  This needs to be done with much finer-grained control of demand than is now practiced.  Users who negotiate their consumption in real time would just throttle with the current grid conditions, but not all users will do this at first.  It is probably feasible to use smart meters and such to push "blackouts" down to the scope of single offices or dwellings for those who do not regulate consumption, and this should probably be done.

I really don’t know the best way to provide proper incentives. I’m reluctant to use government regulation.
Maybe use government to force the markets open?  Real power, reactive power and grid regulation are all products with values, and those values vary minute by minute.  If people could get paid for delivering reactive power to the grid, or use arbitrage on this hour's electric prices vs. the next, costs and prices could both be reduced to the benefit of the end user.  While the end user is limited to the role of "consumer" instead of full participant in the market, this isn't possible.
The battery concept for peak load management and emergency power outages is interesting. Would increased energy cycling reduce battery life?
Obviously, but I'm told that some types of batteries like Pb-SO4 have limited calendar lives as well as cycle lives.  You might as well get your use out of them before they have to be replaced.

One of the V2G tests run by AC Propulsion showed more battery capacity at the end of the test than at the beginning, but it was a test of regulation (very small cycles) rather than peaking storage.

The US needs to be redesigning our infrastructure and institutions so the country can weather terrorist attacks. (Having stated the need, I have no idea how to accomplish the goal.)
I don't see much difference in effect between a terrorist attack, a forest fire below a long-haul line or an ice storm; I suspect that the natural problems are much more damaging than any possible terrorist assault absent nuclear weapons.  If we achieve widespread use of plug-in hybrid vehicles with V2G capability and domestic cogeneration associated with most heating loads, it ought to be feasible for most users to weather grid outages (even extended ones) with minimal impact on their needs - the power available from a vehicle is many times a typical home's maximum electric load, and if domestic space heat and hot water is supplied from a cogenerator then the vehicle batteries could be kept charged with no use of motor fuel.  This would also have the effect of displacing motor fuel during normal use of the same systems.  I examined the issue somewhat in this blog post (but I suspect that I could have been clearer).

Fly said at July 31, 2004 6:11 PM:

“I don't see much difference in effect between a terrorist attack, a forest fire below a long-haul line or an ice storm;”

Good point.

I think about NYC getting nuked. Could our financial system survive? Have large financial companies taken steps to protect their data and critical software systems? Has someone in the government planned for this contingency?

I also wonder how we could adapt to frequent attacks using bioweapons or “dirty” bombs. Should we be moving away from large coastal cities and back to smaller interior cities? How do we make our civilization less brittle?

From the post:

“These are some of the reasons why I think Steven Den Beste is being overly pessimistic about the possibilities. I think this is a terrible shame, because one of the biggest reasons that things don't improve is that not enough people realize that it can actually be done. “

I followed much of that discussion. Beste was responding to people claiming that energy research would seriously impact the WoT. I agree with his conclusion that it won’t. The WoT will be won or lost before energy research makes a big impact.

Energy production, transmission, and use is a very large complex subject. I doubt anyone could summarize the issues in a few pages without making generalizations that could be challenged. Even the claim that nuclear energy could be cheap and safe today (which I believe) could be strongly challenged.

I agree Beste was being overly pessimistic. I tend to be pretty gung ho about biotech and nanotech. I worked in telecommunications and saw first hand the revolutionary impact of new technology. Given the right solution the power industry might adapt far faster than history would suggest.

Randall Parker said at July 31, 2004 8:13 PM:

Fly,

You saw my recent post on CIA analyst "Mike" and Imperial Hubris. Did you click thru and read all the interviews of him that I linked to? I think "Mike" is correct in his analysis. I think these people who think we can stop Islamic terrorism in short order are Panglossians.

Look at the main publically stated neocon technique for stopping terrorism: democratization. First of all, the Bushies are getting nowhere on it. Iyad Allawi is on track to become the equivalent of Vladimir Putin in terms of having a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy while he rules as an authoritarian dictator. Is that democracy? Then Egypt has a democracy too. What a joke. As for the rest of the Middle East, forget about it. They are not going to all convert to democracy tomorrow.

So if democracy isn't going to stop terrorism then what is? I don't see it. We have plenty of time to develop alternative power sources because the terrorists aren't going anywhere.

Garson Poole said at August 1, 2004 12:19 AM:

Fly asked: I think about NYC getting nuked. Could our financial system survive? Have large financial companies taken steps to protect their data and critical software systems? Has someone in the government planned for this contingency?

After the first bombing of the World Trade Center several financial organizations created backup systems elsewhere (e.g. New Jersey). The backup systems were used after the second successful attack on the towers. That is one of the reasons that the disruptions to the financial market were not more severe. However, backup systems have limits and can be defeated. Electromagnetic pulse attacks, multiple nuclear detonations, widespread biological attacks, etc might overwhelm backup planning for any given infrastructure system.

Garson Poole said at August 1, 2004 12:28 AM:

Randall Parker: You appear to have repeatedly attacked the somewhat simplistic political label "neoconservative". The blogger Steven Den Beste is one individual. I do not think that he has been appointed an official representative of a political label. I think he is wrong about renewable energy, but perhaps it is best to reply to his specific arguments on this subject. He is primarily attacking the adequacy of the current technology for renewable energy, and I think that he is right that current technology is in many ways not good enough. For example, the "Technology Review" article cited below says that currently "solar power is four to ten times more costly to produce than electricity from conventional power plants."

But Den Beste's attacks are flawed because he does not fully account for future advances. For example, he attacks photovoltaics by assuming that they must be made of silicon and must have 10 percent efficiency. But Nanosolar, Nanosys, Konarka and other companies are trying to greatly improve the cost-efficiency of photovoltaics using new materials and processes as you have discussed in your blog. http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/04/07/fairley0704.asp
http://www.futurepundit.com/mt/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=2230

Den Beste also discusses "paving 2300 square kilometers of California desert with mirrors" and says, "That's a hell of a lot of metal!" But using large metal mirrors to obtain solar energy is not the most practical method. Also, as you have pointed out, using existing roofs and structures may be possible instead of desert land. Even roads could be used with robust photovoltaic collectors (Eric Drexler suggested this possibility years ago.)

The speed of introduction of alternative power depends crucially on the speed of technological advances and on political mandates/coercion. Both are hard to predict. But, the dangers from radical/demented theocrats will be with us a long time - decades or centuries.

Countering Den Beste's arguments when he is wrong is valuable I think. However, I do not think that the “neoconservative party” has published an official “white paper” on alternative energy. It seems counterproductive to attack a political label at this point. The goal should be to build a broad coalition and to reach out and convince as many people as possible. Why not emphasize widely shared goals:

1) Reducing CO2 emissions
2) Reducing dependence on energy from a very unstable region of the world
3) Increasing domestic jobs
4) Distributing power generation to enhance system resilience
5) Reducing money sent to questionable regimes and tyrannies

Randall Parker said at August 1, 2004 2:14 AM:

Garson,

I have addressed Den Beste's arguments on energy here and on my ParaPundit blog in the past. I do not repeat my own arguments every time this comes up. Let me excerpt from a previous response I made:

As for Den Beste: See my exchange with Den Beste here. He didn't effectively respond to my points. I've laid out the case for why I think photovoltaics could provide enough energy once they can be made cheaply enough. He just asserts it can not be done. Wrong. It is a solvable problem. I put Nobel winner Richard Smalley's opinion that energy is a solvable problem ahead of the pronouncements of naysayers. Technology advances. We can make it advance more rapidly. The question is not whether the problem can be solved but, rather, when will it be solved?

We can solve the technology problems if we try harder. But those who argue that energy policy will not help deal with terrorism are arguing that the terrorism threat can be dealt with in a much shorter period of time before a big tech push would yield any benefits. Well, I think they are wrong about how long the terrorist threat will last. I think the policies they argue for to end the threat of Islamic terrorism are either going to work poorly or, in some cases, backfire and make the threat bigger. I see we are in a long haul struggle and ought to pursue long term as well as short term strategies.

I've also argued with Fly about Den Beste's views in the comments of that post.

One of Den Beste's arguments against solar is that it would take up too much surface area. Well, wrong.

As for neoconservatives: The important ones are in Washington DC. They are a well-defined group. I do not consider Den Beste's analyses particularly interesting or edifying. But some people keep bringing them up to me and so I respond.

Engineer-Poet said at August 1, 2004 11:14 AM:

Fly writes:

Beste was responding to people claiming that energy research would seriously impact the WoT. I agree with his conclusion that it won’t. The WoT will be won or lost before energy research makes a big impact.
Den Beste is implicitly assuming that this is going to be a short affair.  I'm not so sure.  It took twenty years or so for bin Laden to create his mythos on top of decades of Wahhabi dominion in Saudi Arabia, and it may take as long to get rid of their pernicious legacy as it took to create it.  It's likely to be a long fight.

The enemy in this fight isn't sitting on its hands, and neither should we.  We can open up a front attacking the oil revenues which support them just as the US submarine fleet attacked the shipping which supported imperial Japan.  We don't have to have conversion under way to see benefits, either; as the future value of the oil in the ground declines, the Saudis will have a strong incentive to pump it while they can still sell it.  This would lower their revenues, the world price of oil and our trade deficit.

Fly said at August 1, 2004 11:52 AM:

Randall: “You saw my recent post on CIA analyst "Mike" and Imperial Hubris. Did you click thru and read all the interviews of him that I linked to?”

I read three before I lost interest. I’ve also read critiques of his writing elsewhere on the blogosphere.

I think he is likely correct in his analysis of Muslims and in his prediction of an escalating war. I don’t believe he has a global strategy for addressing the problem.

“We have plenty of time to develop alternative power sources because the terrorists aren't going anywhere.”

I disagree. If Islamic backing for the teaching, preaching, and funding of terror isn’t curtailed and if the governments that provide safe haven for terrorists aren’t overthrown then I expect a US city to be nuked in the next ten years. I believe that will lead to total war with the Islamic world. In either case Islamic terrorism will not be a major threat within ten years. In the “total war” scenario the world will have so many problems that the remaining Islamic threat will be minor in comparison.

The alternatives as I see them are the Bush strategy works in time to prevent a US city from being nuked or total war.


Garson: “The backup systems were used after the second successful attack on the towers.”

Thanks. That makes me feel a little better. I know that our communications remained vulnerable and feared that few steps had been taken in other areas.

Paul Baclace said at August 5, 2004 7:05 PM:

"Turbine-powered racer [... in] the Indy 500" was eventually, effectively ruled out by limiting air intake. That's interesting because something similar happened in the tour de france: a recumbant bike won and then the rules were changed to eliminate recumbant bikes. Because of resistance to change in these competitive activities, the development of the novel technologies is unfortunately slowed.

"WoT": Note that the recent 9-11 Comission report calls the WoT a misnomer and says it should be called the War against Islamic Jihad (WaIJ).

Reference point: It took about 50 years to reduce high seas piracy to a "mission accomplished" level around the late 1800's. But in reality, it was never fully eliminated because of the nature of ocean going vessels and the the international legal jurisdiction.

Why the US should have a large alternative energy development program right now: even if it is not yet economically feasible, it will keep oil prices down. From another angle, econ feasibility depends on a comparison to the price of oil, so having an oil alternative puts a cap on the acceptable price of oil within some transition timeframe.

Phil W said at June 8, 2005 10:04 PM:

Referring to the beginning of this thread: you might find this website interesting: http://www.udel.edu/V2G/
I believe most of the objections I saw were due to misunderstanding what needs the concept is designed to address. It would be interesting to read responses to the papers of Kempton and Tomich.

kelly said at August 25, 2005 7:10 PM:

I can just see rolling blackouts coming from southern Cali working their way up north

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