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