RICHLAND, Wash. – As the Pacific Northwest integrates more renewable energy into the electric power system, grid operators sometimes have trouble handling the variability it brings. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash., have found a way to use electric vehicles to solve part of the problem.
Now, when there is more wind power than the grid can handle, companies have to shut down their turbines because they have no way to store the energy. But a “grid friendly” technology could use that surplus wind power to charge electric vehicles, thus lightening the load on the grid, says PNNL’s Michael Kintner-Meyer.
Think about charging a cell phone. You plug it into the wall, and it charges at a consistent rate. Not so with Kintner-Meyer’s technology. Vehicles would charge slowly or quickly depending on how windy it is, allowing wind farms to keep their turbines spinning.
He says the charging time variations won’t hurt car batteries, but it could be especially helpful during spring snow melts when there is lots of hydropower and wind power. At night, when there is excess power on the grid because most people are sleeping, electric vehicles could use the surplus.
For the power grid to work, the same amount of power must be produced as the amount of power that people are using at any given moment. Grid operators know when people usually use the most energy, such as when they are getting ready for work in the morning. But operators aren’t always so sure about how much power renewable energy sources will generate.
When inconsistent renewable energy is added to the mix, that’s where grid management gets tricky, says Michael Milstein, Bonneville Power Administration spokesperson.
“The cycles of energy get thrown off, and appliances don’t work right,” Milstein says.
That’s where Kintner-Meyer’s new technology comes in. It will help balance wind energy supply with demand.
“Vehicles, we’re expecting, could produce a fair amount of these new balancing requirements as the number of vehicles grow and as the technology becomes much more readily available,” Kintner-Meyer says.
More renewable power will continue to come online as companies try to meet energy standards. Kintner-Meyer estimates that to balance the Northwest power grid by 2019, more than one out of 10 cars on the road will need to be electric vehicles.
If he’s right, there will need to be one public charging station built for every 10 electric vehicles, especially at workplaces. Kintner-Meyer says adding workplace charging stations would provide 24-7 access to the grid.
“We found that about 10 percent of the entire fleet [of electric vehicles], if they had access to day time charging - charging at work because most of the vehicles are at work during the day - would provide about 80 percent of the entire value,” Kintner-Meyer says of the power that electric cars use.
Kintner-Meyer says he’s working with charging station developers and automotive engineers to make sure new cars can efficiently use this technology and charging stations will be able to dole out power as needed.
For more on this topic, see Ecotrope.
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