Plug-in Hybrids: Renewable Energy Solution of the Month
February 8, 2010
This video inaugurates a new series, that will augment, but not replace, “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”.
Many people seem to think dealing with climate change will bring poverty and limit human development. The truth may be exactly the opposite. Moving to a world of where we aren’t fighting each other over the last few drops of oil, where energy is free, will mean a better life, with greater opportunities even for an expanding population. If we make the right decisions, we could be on the verge of the most prosperous period in human history.
Script for this video
Most of us have given up on the idea of getting our flying car real soon.
What will the automobiles of the future look like?
Will they be atomic cars? Rocket Cars? Will they steer themselves?
This is the Chevy Volt, probably the most eagerly awaited and important new car design since the Model T. Its success or failure may well show us whether the US Auto industry will flourish or disappear.
It’s a hybrid electric vehicle, part of a new generation called “series hybrids”.
The Volt runs on electric power for about 40 miles. After that a small gasoline engine takes over to recharge the battery, giving it a total range of more than 300 miles.
The battery can then be recharged overnight by plugging it into an outlet.
[GM educational vid]
If you’re like most drivers, who commute 40 miles or less a day, you’ll be able to travel gas free for most of your daily driving.
Ironically, 10 years ago, General Motors was on the cutting edge of electric car technology, with the EV-1. But GM cancelled its electric program, and gave up leadership in this key technology. Now, the world has caught up.
Look out, GM has competition. Nissan is set to unveil its new all electric Leaf next year, while Honda will roll out the hybrid gas-electric Insight.
Perhaps the most critical development has been in the world’s largest auto market, as seen at a recent Shanghai auto show.
Every major Chinese car company seems to have one.
Geely’s EK2, Chery’s Riich M1, BYD’s E6, models of electric cars claiming to be greener, safer, better, than the competition.
Behind in the race to build high quallity petrol powered vehicles, China’s manufacturers are trying to get a head start on the future.
As oil prices climb, and concern about climate change increases, the coming decades will almost certainly be dominated by electric vehicles.
But some people ask, in going this route, are we exchanging one form of pollution for another? Are we merely swapping the tail pipe, for the smoke stack? Will we have to build a new generation of fossil fuel power plants to power our electric cars?
This is where the story gets really interesting.
If you are an electric utility, this is your problem to solve each day. This is a 24 hour graph of electrical demand. Typically, they show low demand in the early morning hours, and high peaks in the late afternoon and evening.
Each of these periods is a significant challenge for the power system.
In the early morning, demand is low, but the giant power plants used to provide base load power, usually coal fired and nuclear, cannot be shut down to economize on a daily basis. They continue to run, burning fuel or splitting atoms, even though demand is low. It’s called “spinning reserve”, and it’s a significant cost to ratepayers.
In the afternoon peaks, many utilities find it difficult to meet demand with only their baseload units, so rely on a network of smaller power plants, many of which are only in use a few hours each day, and sometimes, only a few days out of every year during the hottest weeks and months. This is an extremely expensive way to produce electricity, and ratepayers, again, take a hit.
Experts tell us that, since most cars will be charged at night, the spinning reserve from existing power plants will be more than enough to meet demand.
In fact, a study from the US Department of Energy has shown that:
“For the United States as a whole, 84% of US cars, pickup trucks and SUVs could be supported by the existing infrastructure, ..”
For utilities, this means they can sell more electricity, without building expensive new power plants. For ratepayers, this means that they can run cars on cheap electricity, instead of expensive gas, while allowing electric rates to be stable or actually drop.
But that’s only part of the story. What about addressing those expensive summer peaks? There’s another emerging piece of the puzzle.
Electrical grids all over the world are being rebuilt, to carry vastly more information, and behave more like the the internet.
Smart Grid technology from GE will make the way we distribute electricity more efficient, simply by making it more intelligent.
A key piece of the new grid will be the smart, internet-connected electric meter in homes and businesses.
So my solar panels are talking to my house, are talking to my car, are talking to my house…..
The way this will work on that hot summer afternoon when demand peaks, is that a computer in the grid will talk to your electric meter, and say, “I see you have an electric car plugged in your system, and it looks all charged up. May I borrow some electrons?
And your meter might answer, “Why yes, I am authorized to share some electrons with you.”
The system has a number of advantages.
Most cars are parked, and could be available 23 out of the 24 hours.
A fleet of electric cars would be equal to 10 to 12 times US electric grid capacity.
And the service car owners provide to utilities is so valuable, you may have your electric bill credited 2 to 4 thousand dollars per year, just to have it plugged in when you’re not using it.
The details of how this will eventually work are not yet settled. It may be that most cars will rely on charging stations at home or at work.
Or, one concept is that car owners will not own the car batteries. Instead of gas stations, we may build a network of battery replacement stations, where used batteries are quickly swapped out for fresh ones. This model is already being demonstrated in Israel and Denmark.
Another advantage of smart grids is the ability to balance existing sources of energy, as well as integrate and even store new renewable sources like wind and solar.
Anders Eldrup, CEO, Dong Energy, Copenhagen:
“Danes are today the world leaders on the wind side. We have,… 20% of the electricity production in Denmark comes from wind.
But we need a storage, so we can store the wind energy. Until now, that has really not been possible.
But the battery – that is a storage of wind energy. And when you have the battery, why not put 4 wheels underneath it, and then you have the EV.” From THE ADVANTAGES OF PLUGGING IN
Of course, electric cars are not the whole answer to our problem. In fact, we’re going to be rebuilding a whole network of mass transit, including light rail, and high speed trains, while we rethink the way cities grow and develop.
In the responses to these videos, I’ve heard so much fear about the path ahead, and how society will cope with a climate constrained world.
Many people seem to think dealing with climate change will bring poverty and limit human development.
The truth may be exactly the opposite. Moving to a world of where we aren’t fighting each other over the last few drops of oil, where energy is free, will mean a better life, with greater opportunities even for an expanding population. If we make the right decisions, we could be on the verge of the most prosperous period in human history.
In these videos, I’ve kept you updated on the problems of climate change, and the dangers of going forward blindly. Now, in coming months, I’ll start outlining the positive future that could be.
I believe we’ll embrace these new technologies, not because greener is better, or low carbon is better, but because better is better.
I hope you’ll follow along on upcoming editions of Renewable Energy Solution of the Month.