4 Ways Electric Cars Can Support & Benefit The Grid
Some can be counter-intuitive
When electric vehicles first began arriving on our roads, there were a lot of questions about how their mass adoption might affect the electrical grid. Despite predictions of massive power failures and other disasters, grids have, so far, held up quite well. In fact, it’s now thought that EVs will bring improvements to systems that see more energy being supplied by renewable, sometimes inconsistent, sources.
That’s great news, considering EVs are still a relatively small proportion of automotive traffic. As the electric revolution progresses and our cars increasingly lean on the grid for nourishment, the grid may also rely on our cars. Here are some of the ways the electrical grid and electric vehicles should dance together like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.
1. Battery development for electric cars has led to cheaper, better energy storage for the grid.
Electric vehicles have provided a great motivation for investment in battery development. This has, in turn, led to batteries which have greatly improved energy density, and with the volumes being produced for vehicles heavily increased, the price of cells has plummeted, making them a more attractive option for grid-level energy storage.
It’s no surprise, then, that the batteries thought to have both the best energy density and lowest cell price that have arisen from the tie up between Tesla and Panasonic, and are involved in some of these early grid storage projects. A well-known example of this is the 52 MWh installation on Kauai, Hawaii, which was installed to support a 13 MW solar farm.
2. Electric vehicles can offer grid frequency regulation services.
Using Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology, electric vehicles can help the grid maintain a proper frequency. This will become especially helpful as more energy sources are based on intermittent renewable sources such as solar and wind. When the energy being supplied to the grid suddenly decreases, then smart EVs that happen to be plugged in at the time can be called upon to loan some of their stored energy to make up the shortfall, and help keep the frequency where it needs to be.
Typically, these lapses are brief, so don’t worry about getting in your car to go to work and finding the power company has “stolen” all the energy in your battery. Cars will be able to limit the amount of energy they lend, which would also prevent that scenario. A paper outlining how this will work was published by the Technical Universtity of Denmark.
3. EVs can stand in for the grid if it fails.
During storms, or other events, it’s not unusual for utility-supplied power to go down. An EV can, with the proper safeguards installed, power a home when the grid fails. This is something that Nissan in particular has spent time developing, calling it LEAF-to-home. It is important to note that this and similar systems isolate the structure they are supplying with energy from the outside world. This is to prevent power lines, which workers would expect to be dead, from carrying current and creating a dangerous situation.
Of course, even if not hooked up directly to your home, EV owners can use the charge in their cars to supply power to some devices directly.
4. Create increased demand for electricity
This one might seem a little odd a first blush, but the fact is that utility companies need customers for their generated energy. According to Bloomberg, demand has been flat for the past decade or so, due to the advent of LED lighting and more efficient appliances. As the number of electric vehicles grows, so will the need for energy from the grid. This provides income for utility operators, who can then afford to pay their expenses and invest in infrastructure.
There may well be other ways in which electric vehicles and the power grid may support each other, especially through smart metering, V2G, and other technologies. If there’s one that you feel we missed that should be included, let us know in Comments.