January 25 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation Year: Beyond Rating: 1
Political and Industry leaders agree that it is time to re-imagine the Electrical 'Grid' as something 'smarter', more resilient, and open to new forms of energy storage and onsite production.
Utilities are now exploring the idea that electric vehicles (powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) will someday become the new backbone of the world's electricity grids.
The questions are: 'How' and 'What does the 'Energy Web' of Tomorrow look like?'
Do we 'recharge' objects via cords and wall sockets, or do objects have their own internal power generators that are 'refueled' with high density energy 'packets'?
We are only at the beginning of exploring the future schematics of an 'energy web' infrastructure that integrates electric vehicles. But the test programs are starting to scale up!
The City of Newark has approved a small test project led by the University of Delaware's Center for Carbon-free Power Integration (CCPI) to test 'vehicle to grid' systems using plug-in hybirds integrated into the local utility grid.
Vehicle to Grid (V2G) Energy Storage & Production
(& My Skepticism of Wall Socket Infrastructure)
The V2G vision is a future where electricity-powered vehicles are integrated into the 'two-way' flows of a Smarter Energy Web. Not only might the electrical grid (or natural gas line) provide the 'fuel' (electricity/hydrogen) for your electric vehicle, but when the grid is strained, your car can feed energy back into the grid.
Vehicles could help to balance the flows of electricity by providing massive amounts of distributed energy storage to various points of the electricity web. One vehicle powered by a 50kW system (batteries, fuel cells, & capacitors) could generate enough electricity to power 5-10 homes.
It is a simple, elegant idea. And I am a big fan!
But I am very skeptical of 'plug in' refueling based on batteries, cords and wall sockets as the backbone schematic.
I see no reason why the 'wall socket' plug in model should be extended into the future when so many new options for energy systems are close to commercialization.
Reasons to be Skeptical of Plug-ins - Cost & Convenience
The auto industry is at the beginning of a multi-decade long transition away from liquid fueled combustion engines to electrical drive systems powered by a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Batteries are only the first generation energy storage system for electric vehicles, not the default platform for the future. Auto makers are hedging their bets on an integrated system that uses next generation batteries, fuel cells, solid hydogen storage, and capacitors.
Providing Access to 'Plug In' Infastructure is Not Cheap
Early advocates for plug-ins argued that the 'infrastructure already exists'. They argued 'Don't believe the hype of hydrogen because we'll have to build new infrastructure'. 'Instead we'll just plug our cars in at night'. This was the foundation of plug-in movement.
And now it is clear that they were wrong. Their assumptions were overstated.
Yes, we have an electric grid and wall sockets, but it is not adequate for supporting a nation of electric plug in vehicles.
Now electric vehicle infrastructure start ups like Better Place are acknowleding that the price tag for extending plug in acces to vehicles via sockets is not cheap. The company estimates the Bay Area alone will cost $1 billion.
My point: We do not have an electric grid system that can absorb plug-ins, and it will cost money to extend 'socket' infrastructure.
Do we spend billions to connect wall sockets with 'batteries' if they are indeed only a first generation energy storage solution? It seems short-sighted.
'Plugging in' is not Conveinent: Wall Sockets are 20th Century Concept
Have you ever tried to find a wall socket for your dying laptop battery in a crowded cafe?
Or tried to find a wall socket at an airport in between flights?
It's hard when the number of devices greatly outnumbers the number of sockets.
Wall sockets are a 20th century concept based on stationary appliances, not mobile devices or electric vehicles.
What if we re-imagined a future where plugging in seemed antiquated?
The 21st century might be about decoupling the grid from fixed wall socket infrastructure.
Imagine energy solutions that help break our dependency to the wall socket.
Then, how do we imagine V2G in this future?
Regular readers of The Energy Roadmap will know that I am a long-term believer in solid state hydrogen storage and capacitors as the next generation formats for energy storage. But other ideas, such as metal based power are important to explore. (More on that later!)
We should not overhype the short-term impact of new technologies, nor should we be naive enough to make blanket statements that they will 'never' exist as viable commercial systems.
It is important to recognize that the future will have energy systems that do not current exist today.
'Swap out' Packets
The alternative to 'plugging in' and recharging, is solid state energy 'swap out' and refueling.
Recharging requires access to a wall socket grid connection.
Refueling requires access to energy packets
(e.g. retail shelf sales of high density energy packets, rapid refueling stations)
In the 'recharging' V2G schematic the vehicle must be close enough to connect a cord to the wall socket.
In the 'refueling' V2G schematic the vehicle carries energy packets within its chassis. To bring power to the grid you could use a cord (if you wanted) or simply take out a small, high density packet of energy and 'refuel' a stationary fuel cell connected to the home and/or grid.
Confused?! Recharging vs Refueling = 2 Different Futures
I applaud the Newark test program, but believe we must not fall into the trap of extrapolating old paradigms around new technologies and business models.
Vehicle to Grid is elegant. But what does the 'grid' of the future look like?
It's important to imagine something completely different!
What if there are no wall sockets?
It sounds like a subtle distinction. But the reality is more profound.
'Recharging' extrapolates the notion of cords and wall sockets and energy storage (e.g. batteries). In this world the only people who can benefit from objects are those with wall sockets. This future requires us to plug into the Grid.
'Refueling' (or a 'swap out') future imagines the world where nothing is 'plugged' in. All objects have their own internal power generators (e.g. fuel cells). In this future we can expand products to anyone who can buy fuel 'packets' at a local retail store. This future says we carry energy around in our cars and pockets. No need to access a grid. The grid exists, but is also broken down into 'packets' and sold over retail shelves.
Via PhysOrg and as reported by dozens of other blogs!
Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
Kleiner invests in Smart Grid startup, ‘Big Grid’ prepares for disruptions ahead
Better Place planning to build out Hawaii’s electric vehicle infrastructure
The future of electricity: A guide to the Smart Grid
Is Detroit asleep at the wheel?
Electric Vehicle Industry goes Global
France to spend millions on electric vehicles
Warren Buffet buys equity in China’s BYD
The Good news? China is investing in electric cars, The Bad news? China is investing in electric cars
Is GM expecting China to extend its grid for electric cars?