Imagine an affluent Massachusetts suburb where EVs really take off, say to 10 percent of the neighborhood homes in a short while. Then, figure that when the owners come home from work at 6:30 p.m. and plug in their cars to recharge they’re pulling 3.5 kilowatts from the grid, which is as much or more than their entire house. So now, the house has been lit up, the car is in the garage recharging, and the big screen and some appliances for dinner are also going. And then it’s just a matter time before you begin to hear the sound of transformers popping, and the lights go out. At a Ford Motor Company media day here in Boston this week, the cars – a Ford Focus with a Magna electric drivetrain, a plug-in Hybrid Escape and a 2010 Taurus with THX surround sound – were the big draw. Alongside Ford was National Grid, discussing its vision for a smart grid. For now it means working on standards together, and integrating current smart-metering efforts and business models with the EV industry, so that the impact of the EV isn’t overlooked in utility smart grid plans. In the future, assuming EVs take off, things will get more interesting for the power company. Nancy Gioia, director of Ford global electrification, and Stan Blazewicz, global head of technology for National Grid, discussed how the integration of EV charging and smart grid does more than keep transformers from overheating, but is part of a whole new paradigm of utility-controlled load-shifting, renewable energy integration, and distributed energy storage. This is far easier said than done. The pitch is that EVs will use off-peak power from a utility, thereby taking advantage of lower pricing during these periods of low load. On its surface that feels true, and there are a few studies that claim no new generating capacity will be needed for the first years of EV penetration because of off-peak charging. However, a closer inspection of this idea raises a few questions: 1. At 6 p.m., when many drivers will arrive home and plug in to recharge, utilities are operating in a well-documented second peak of daily demand. Without some kind of intelligent management, this additional load can create havoc in areas with many EVs. It also cuts against the notion that EVs will have little impact on the grid because they will mainly charge during off-peak times. 2. How long will off-peak actually stay off-peak? With increased penetration of EVs, the increased load during off-peak times will inevitably lead to higher pricing and the eventual diminishment of what is now a predictable off-peak timeframe. 3. Stress on the grid. Many of today’s utilities with aging networks count on the cool nights to keep their neighborhood transformers from overheating, allowing them a good 10 hours to cool down each evening. With EVs pulling such extreme loads at night, these transformers won’t last and will need replacing, increasing the cost to utilities and complicating the economics of smart grid and utility-vehicle integration. From there we went outside to test drive the cars. I drove the Ford Escape PHEV, one of National Grid’s, with Steven Tobias, principal analyst for technology and innovation at National Grid. Even compared to my Prius it was incredibly quiet. There was no annoying beeping on backup and no sound at all while driving out of the lot into South Boston. It did have a great deal of information from the dash about power usage, charging status, etc. “When does the gas engine kick in?” I asked. “When it needs to go over 40, or when you floor it,” said Steven. So I floored it. Sure enough, combustion, and a real pleasing kick, threw our heads back into the seats as the tachometer came to life and showed 2000 rpm. It gave us a good ride around the neighborhood, and a sense that this SUV had some life and consumer appeal. The question is whether the grid is ready for it.
Greentech Media: All Content / Fri, 16 Oct 2009 15:01:43 GMT