How your Cute EV Could Keep the Lights on in your Neighborhood

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As we exit the age of oil, utilities have investigated the various ways that electric vehicles might help stabilize the smart grid.

In the last several years, utilities like PG&E have researched using spent batteries from electric cars for grid storage – once they are too worn out for recharging cars any more.

They have also checked into seeing how feasible it might be to use EVs as sort of on-demand rolling battery backups, swapping power back and forth, while the battery is still in use. A payment arrangement would be worked out so that if an EV owner wished to sell some backup power, his fully charged EV might let some electricity flow back into the grid.

Now, a new idea is being tested, with $700,000 in funding from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

EV batteries typically still have 70 to 80 percent of their capacity when they can no longer be used in cars, which demand a very high level of power. But that leaves a lot of life for a lower power use, like balancing the grid. A 25 KW distributed energy storage unit made up of the recycled batteries could help balance power use among five to ten homes, by providing load shifting and a little reserve as we add more intermittent energy sources like wind and solar.

Writing at Energy Prospects, Leora Vestel says that the California Center for Sustainable Energy, is working with San Diego Gas & Electric, UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, AeroVironment and Flux Power on the concept.

To test how well the idea works, a CES device comprised of four repurposed PEV battery packs will be collocated with a solar system at UC San Diego, which operates on a microgrid. Power stored in the CES will be accessed when solar generation suddenly dips because of cloud cover, or to meet peak demand.

California makes sense as the state to test the idea in, as it offers a $5,000 incentive for EVs, that together with the $7,500 nationwide tax credit, brings the price of the first of the new EV technology down to affordable levels under $20,000. It is likely to be one of the largest early adopter markets for EVs, with sales expected to grow from 14,400 in 2011 to 366,000 by 2018.

If it works, we may one day have our own in-home CES – or HES – Household Energy Storage. The UCDavis Plug-in Hybrid Research Center has provided $900,000 for the team to also research and build and test a home-energy-storage appliance that would do the same thing, but shifting loads even at the household level.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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