Electric cars are still pretty much a novelty in most places, but their numbers are increasing. Electrical utilities around the world are trying to understand what will happen if and when there are millions of them on the road.
Large numbers of electric cars represent both a challenge and an opportunity for the electric grid. The challenge is how to deal with mushrooming electrical demand if everyone plugs in their cars at the same time. The opportunity is that electrical utilities could tap into the batteries of these cars for backup power when the grid is under strain or when generators are knocked out in various emergencies. Drivers would be paid for providing electricity from their parked cars. This is known as vehicle-to-grid or V2G technology.
There are pilot programs going on in various places looking into the issues related to electric cars and the grid. In the San Francisco Bay area, utility PGE is conducting an 18-month study that pays 100 owners of BMW i3 electric hatchbacks to participate in a demand response program. When electricity demand is high, car owners get a text asking them to hold off on charging their cars for an hour or two until demand is lower.
In Los Angeles, Nissan Leafs and other electric cars are being tested at the local Air Force Base in a 36-car V2G demonstration project. The special charging stations in the project can provide enough juice to power 140 homes.
When there are enough electric cars on the road, the potential for using them as a significant resource for the grid will be immense.
Photo, posted October 2, 2010, courtesy of Richard Kelly via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.