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Report: Electric Cars Can Balance Renewable Power Grid

Plug-in electric vehicle (Idaho National Lab)

(Idaho National Lab)

A report from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) says the growing use of electric vehicles offers a way of balancing the intermittent nature of renewable sources in the Northwest U.S. power grid. PNNL, a unit of the U.S. Department of Energy, examined grid conditions in the Northwest Power Pool, which covers Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming — home to abundant wind resources and wind energy projects.

The report says that the future Northwest power system would be able to better use fickle wind energy if about 13 percent, or about 2.1 million, of the vehicles in the seven Northwest states were plug-in electric models and equipped with a charging technology developed at PNNL that eases the strain on the power grid.  The study notes that consumers would need to have the ability to charge their vehicles during the day, and a small percentage of charging stations would need to be available publicly or located at the owners’ places of employment.

While electric cars are often considered large potential consumers of power, those vehicles sitting at home or work with partially-charged batteries are also a potential asset for the power grid. A vehicle’s ability to start and stop charging, to adjust for the varying availability of wind power, could serve as a shock absorber on the grid.

Part of that shock absorber is PNNL’s charging technology, called Grid Friendly, that makes it possible to adjust the timing of charging the vehicle’s battery based in part on the needs of the power grid. An electric car with this technology would be monitored by the grid when charging, and its charging rate would fluctuate to minimize the draw of power during high-volume hours. The charge can also be deferred to off-peak hours when rates for electric power are lower, saving money for the car’s owner.

To explore the feasibility of using electric vehicles to balance the intermittent nature wind power, the researchers looked at the driving habits of about 37,000 people: at home, at work, or in transit. They determined some 2.1 million light-duty electric vehicles with a 33-mile electric range would be needed in the Northwest to provide the on-again, off-again balancing requirements for integrating 10 gigawatts of additional wind technology in the region.

To meet that goal would first require considerably more sales of plug-in electric vehicles, but that number is expected to increase now that major automobile manufacturers are selling plug-in vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. The study also found that the needed number of public or workplace charging stations to be relatively small. Just one out of every 10 stations would have to be available to the public or located at the workplace to offer the majority of balancing services to the grid if Grid Friendly charging technology is used.

Read more: ABB, GM to Research Spent Car Batteries for Grid Storage

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