Here's a tech story that seems too good to be true. And we're talking about real tech, as in heavy machinery, not the software dreams of would-be zillionaires shuttling around San Francisco cocooned in unmarked luxo buses going to and from the likes of Google's and Facebook's gated design playgrounds. Not that there's anything wrong with that clan. Much.
To return to the topic, the following story leaves a lot of questions. Which means, plenty of room for other reporters to explore its crannies and voids. Plus, as we'll see, the topic has been chewed over a bit in previous press stories:
- LA Times – Evan Halper: Electric cars may hold solution for power storage ; Says here, this newish technology could "upend" how Americans and energy relate. Via our cars, a lot of us might sort of soon be helping utilities balance supply and demand for electric powr – which can easily black out whole communities, even states, if their yinyang goes much one way or the other. Electric car batteries would, while plugged in, be available to absorb or disgorge quick power pulses as needed, all coordinated via some kind of communication system between the power company and the cars' chargers.
Other than proclaiming that utilities regard efficient electric storage as a holy grail, a cliche that really ought to be put out of its misery, this is an honest and intriguing story. It includes the high regulatory hurdles between us and a future with car batteries keeping the lights on. Another hurdle: convincing car makers not to cancel warranties for any of their cars in harness to the electric company as load-management buffers. Most interesting is this declaration: Demonstration projects at various labs and a few military bases pay about $200 a month for Nissan Leaf test mules. Under some scenarios, a Defense Dept. experimenter told reporter Halper, "You could pay close to nothing for the lease" via pocketing electric company credits from watt-hours sloshed both in and out of one's buggy.
I'm partiuclarly intrigued as I have a car in the garage with a humongous battery right now, just sitting there. So like many electric car owners will ask, but don't see anwered here, I wonder just how big a bite might the PG&E take some day? To be sure, it sounds fine to me if the alternative is a blackout. That'd be really upsetting. I could be stranded wth a near-flat battery at home while all the folks still using ice (that's what we musketeers call internal combustion engines) rumble on by after manually disengaging their garage door openers. I can already just hear them sneering : "Take THAT carbon footprint and put it where the sun don't shine, you greenie weenies!!"
Such a system surely might start nibbling and depositing energy out of and back into the battery all day long. Will there be a limit on how much could be taken? Assurance that if it's plugged in all night thta car will be topped up in the morning? Might they try to charge the battery when it's already full and wreak kind of electrolytic mayhem inside our car's most expensive part? And, by the models and small scale trials that energy engineers are using to evaluate such a deal, just how much income might typical car owners actually net? Not a whisper of such car-owner-centric concerns, not even to merely raise them, is in the Times yarn.
A small quibble. While the LATimes does give due credit to a University of Delaware professor for catalyzing a lot of this work with a paper in 1997, and who still runs one of its largest experimental centers, it does not quite do this laboratory exercise's long-evolved jargon justice. It notes that the proposed system relies on vehicle-to-grid technology. It ought to note in passing that there already is a Googleable shorthand for that: V2G. That's not on par yet with B2B (for the business-to-business biz), but it may soon be.
In the meantime, the LATimes is out with a handsome piece, but is hardly first to this news. It's been rattling around for a few years. Here are some other examples of media coverage:
- Winchester Daily Times Chronicle – Town awarded electric vehicle ; Small town paper's report that the community is getting some goodies to take part in a Massachusetts-backed effort to make transportation more efficient and greener. It mentions electric school buses that would use V2G technology. The story has pretty stiff style – one suspects it is based largely on somebody's press release.
- Torque News – Parks McCants: Honda Accord plug-in will help standardize Power Grid Integration ; A pretty good analysis, only slightly wonky.
- Daily Breeze (Torrance, Southern California) Muhammed El-Hasan: Honda in study to use cars to supply the electric grid ; El-Hasan at least reported this in large part himself, garnering an email quote or two. He also declares that the back and forth between grid and autos will be in such brief episodes is will not "sap the power's battery." Even allowing for the misplaced apostrophe, one wants to know more. You mean there will be no appreciable net cost, in kw-hours, to car owners in such a system but they still might get substantial payment? If so, that really would seem too good to be true.
- Poughkeepsie Journal (Jul 23): Vehicle-to-grid system could hold promise ; Hmmm. This is so stubby it is either a lopped off press release, or a longer story lurks somewhere in the Gannett empire.
Grist for the Mill: Nissan Press Release explaining how the car maker is using its Leafs to game the Tokyo utility company's electric rates ; Univ. Delaware Press Release on a deal with Honda, and a 2007 Press Release on how car owners might be paid to participate in V2G systems; Honda Press Release on deal with Univ. Delaware ; GM Press Release on its new Volt-like ELR coupe and its readiness for "smart grids," which implies a V2G option, some day.