One of the big questions facing renewable energy advocates in the West is how to add more wind power without overwhelming the transmission system. As the wind picks up and dies down, power managers need to balance out the increase and decrease in wind energy generated by dialing up other power sources or absorbing extra electricity when no one needs it.
Electric cars can help, according to researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. A new report looks at the implications of adding 10 Gigawatts of wind energy to the Northwest grid by 2019 – as required by state renewable energy standards.
The report concludes that 2.1 million electric vehicles would be needed in seven Northwest states to help balance out that much wind power. That means about 13 percent of the cars on the road today in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming would need to be replaced with EVs to serve as a “shock absorber” for fluctuations in the wind.
To reach this conclusion, researchers studied the driving habits of 37,000 people when they were at home, at work or in transit. They found consumers would need to have the ability to charge their electric cars during the day, and a small percentage (one out of 10) would need to be available publicly or at the workplace.
The system would rely on Grid Friendly technology that would adjust the EV battery charging rate according to how much electricity was being generated at any given time (among other factors). It would use the region’s fleet of EVs – rather than new (and likely gas-fired) power plants – to absorb fluctuations in electricity produced by wind farms.
And the technology can be implemented now, without waiting for vehicle-to-grid services that would use electric cars as two-way batteries, according to study co-author Michael Kinter-Meyer:
“Electric vehicles, coupled with grid-friendly charging, offers a great opportunity, right now, to help electric companies integrate additional windpower into our electric system. We don’t need to wait for vehicle-to-grid, or V2G, services, which would require that the electricity would be released back into the grid. We could perform grid-friendly charging now that would provide valuable services to the grid for integrating wind energy. … By using electric vehicles to support additional windpower in the Northwest, and reducing the need to build new power plants to support it, we could potentially defray some of the cost for both electrifying our transportation system and integrating wind technology into the grid, driving down our regional dependence on imported oil, as well as vehicle emissions.”