Friday, October 19, 2007

The Cash Back Hybrid

Not that long ago, the idea that the transportation sector might actually provide energy back into the stationary generation sector was pretty much on the outside of the bell curve of acceptable thinking. Today the VtoG concept is a respectable topic in respectable circles.

Here's an example from Spectrum Online:

Can plug-in hybrid electric vehicles keep the electric grid stable?
By John Voelcker
First Published October 2007

Google, a former CIA director, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. senator, and the IEEE aren’t often found together in the same room.

But the promise of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) aligns the stars in unexpected ways. The result of their meeting on September 19th (“Plug-In Hybrids: Accelerating Progress”) is an early glimpse at a future with vehicles powered by electricity, emitting far fewer greenhouse gases than those of the last century—and playing a key role in the very stability of the nation’s electric grid. (clip)

The keynote speaker, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), plunged directly into the policy fray. “Many of us on Capitol Hill see the potential of plug-in hybrids,” Cantwell said, describing a bill she has introduced to encourage early production and purchase of plug-ins. It includes tax credits for consumers who buy or convert to plug-ins, tax incentives on tooling for carmakers who sell early models, and incentives for utilities to offer discounts for off-peak car recharging.

It also encourages utilities to upgrade to “smart grid” technology, allowing electric appliances to communicate with the grid and charge themselves based on real-time power prices.

Next up was Jon Wellinghoff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who coined the term “cash-back hybrid,” which clearly describes the benefit to consumers of plug-ins that not only charge themselves when demand is lightest and prices are lowest, but supply energy services to the grid as well.

Collectively, Wellinghoff proposed, the batteries in millions of PHEVs could provide five distinct benefits: lowering greenhouse-gas emissions, improving urban air quality, saving consumers money, bolstering power-grid reliability, and reducing oil imports.

How would those results be achieved?

By making the energy stored in plug-in hybrids an integral part of the grid, using a few percent of each battery’s energy storage capacity to meet peak demand rather than adding new generating capacity—and by paying consumers accordingly.

The notion is called vehicle-to-grid power, or V2G, and its workings, economics, and practicalities were the meat and potatoes of the symposium. (clip)

Clearly such a notion requires radical thinking. Whether consumers are ready to make that kind of leap—let alone the automakers or the electric industry—is open to debate.

But the ghost of Henry Ford was invoked, with his legendary quotation on responding to consumer demands: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”

When consumers were asked about buying a Plug In hybrid, 27% said they would be likely to include plug in hybrid technology in their next vehicle.

In other developments, Odyne Corporation, a leading developer of hybrid electric vehicle technology and Dueco, Inc., one of the largest utility equipment manufacturers in the country, introduced another important step in the greening of the nation's utility companies, the first plug-in hybrid aerial lift truck.



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