Transportation | Energy | Ecotrope

Next up: Get paid to plug in your electric car

Ecotrope | Aug. 17, 2011 11 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:36 p.m.

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Portland Mayor Sam Adams celebrates the opening of the city’s “Electric Avenue,” where electric vehicle technology is on display and cars can charge up for free. But one day, with a smarter grid, EV owners could make money by using their cars to store excess electricity and sell it back to the grid.

Everybody’s charged up about Portland’s Electric Avenue. I saw coverage of this week’s grand opening picked up by Wired, USA Today, ABC News, CBS and the Huffington Post. Seven plug-in charging stations made by six different manufacturers are now open to the public for free (though you still pay for parking while you juice up) on SW Montgomery. It’s part of a two-year research and development project by Portland State University, Portland General Electric and the City of Portland that will study how people use their EVs.

The way people use electric cars – particularly when they decide to plug them in – will make a big difference in the impact to the grid and the environment. There are 800 EVs on the road in Oregon today, according to Portland General Electric. By 2030, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, there could be anywhere from 600,000 to 3.5 million in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The Council, which studies the region’s power needs, projects electric cars will increase power use by 100 to 500 megawatts on average with little effect on electrical bills and rates. But that projection assumes that almost everyone (95 percent) charges their cars at night and on weekends – during off-peak hours when there’s less demand for power.

Utilities would have to give customers incentives to charge their cars when there’s power to spare, the Council concluded, if the current system is going to juice up all those EVs without having to build new power sources. Can you see where I’m going with this?

A projection of how much more electricity would be needed in the Northwest to power electric cars. The trajectory of the increase here depends on how many cars are on the road by 2030.

A projection of how much more electricity would be needed in the Northwest to power electric cars. The trajectory of the increase here depends on how many cars are on the road by 2030.

Having a million electric cars in the Northwest will present both challenges and opportunities, said Council spokesman John Harrison.

“It all depends on how they’re charged and when,” Harrison said. “You run the risk of plugging in all at once and then we have a spike. Imagine building natural gas-fired peaking plants just to make sure we have enough juice to power electric vehicles. These vehicles present both a potential drain on power supply but also the ability to store power and feed power back on to the grid as a back-up for wind power.”

But using the cars as storage devices or power sources will required two-way communication between cars, their owners and grid operators so customers. In other words, it will take a smarter power grid than we have today.

Elaina Medina, spokeswoman for Portland General Electric, said the technology that connects vehicles to the grid is at least 10 years away from commercialization. But she said her utility is well-equipped to handle growth in electric vehicles right now.

“Our grid can handle EVs no problem,” she said. “At 1, 5, 10 percent penetration of EVs on the road, our system is well prepared. Each one is the equivalent of a clothes drier or two hair driers.”
(Note in the graph below that the Council considered penetration rates much higher than 10 percent. The rates correspond to higher demands for power in the graph above.)
The penetration rates - or what percentage of all new vehicles are electric – shown here for three different "what if" scenarios. The slowest-growth tops out at 9 percent. What if it's higher?

The penetration rates - or what percentage of all new vehicles are electric – shown here for three different "what if" scenarios. The slowest-growth tops out at 9 percent. What if it's higher?

But vehicle-to-grid technology is making headway at University of Delaware. There, the V2G pilot program uses software to allow the grid to take power from electric cars as needed without draining their batteries too much for driving. Here’s the program concept:

“Cars pack a lot of power. One properly designed electric-drive vehicle can put out over 10kW, the average draw of 10 houses. The key to realizing economic value from V2G are grid-integrated vehicle controls to dispatch according to power system needs.”

Why would someone offer up their car’s battery power? Because they would get paid for the juice. According to V2G, a person could make $1,000 and $5,000 a year by leasing their car as a power source for the grid. At that rate, the car’s battery power could go a long way toward paying for the car itself. But that’s a long way from Electric Avenue…

 

 

 

 

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