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Electric Cars are the Missing Link to a Zero Carbon Energy Grid

Posted on 2 March 2017 by Ryan Logtenberg

Since the start of the industrial revolution, humans have released hundreds of billions of tons of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, acidifying oceans, increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, raising sea levels with the worst effects yet to come.  The general consensus gleaned from the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 is that in order to halt the relentless march of climate change and its forecasted catastrophic consequences, one step we need to take is to transform our fossil fuel based economy to one powered by zero-emission renewable energy.

The good news is that investments in solar and wind generation have become competitive and in many cases cheaper and more profitable than similar investments in fossil fuels. The graphs below shows how solar and wind installations in the US have beaten fossil fuel installations for the past 3 years.


Globally, the conversation has shifted from “can renewables compete with fossil fuels?” to “how much intermittent renewable energy can our power grid handle?”  Currently power grids rely on a steady and predictable stream of power generation. They can handle only so much of the fluctuation that comes from solar (surges during the day) and wind (surges when it’s windy).

The investment required in energy storage facilities to fulfill the needs of a 100% renewable energy grid is typically believed to be very high. Essentially millions of large industrial-scale batteries or creative energy storage solutions are needed to smooth out the surges. But what is often forgotten is that a creative solution is currently being built at an accelerating rate, in the form of vehicle batteries from the budding electric transportation system. Electric vehicles will herald in a new age of clean air on busy city streets, but they can also serve a secondary purpose of solving the energy storage issue of renewables.  

Mass adoption of electric vehicles is coming.  Many of the drawbacks of electric vehicles are quickly being addressed: From inexpensive vehicles with  200-335 miles of range, to the rapid expansion of ultra fast charging stations that can charge vehicles to 80% in 15 minutes or less.  Several countries in Europe now see zero emission vehicles as the logical solution to addressing air pollution and are looking to implement bans on new fossil-fuel powered vehicles as early as 2025.  Some major cities are even going a step further and will be banning all diesel powered vehicles from their cities.  Clearly,  the age of the fossil fuelled powered vehicle is quickly coming to an end.   But, how big of an impact can an electrified transportation sector have in creating a green energy grid?  Well let’s look at the numbers:

On average, vehicles in America are driven 30 miles a day.  An average vehicle requires about 10 kWh of energy to cover this distance.  The battery pack in a current generation mass-market Chevy Bolt holds 60 kWh.  If we leave a 50% margin over normal daily usage, 75% (or 45 kWh) of battery capacity remains unused on an average day. If this available capacity were used to store cheap energy like solar during the day and sold back to the grid at night or during peak use, many problems in a 100% renewable energy grid would be solved.  This concept is known as Vehicle to Grid (V2G) and is already being tested in many cities.  If the 251 million cars and trucks on the road today all had batteries similar to that in the Chevy Bolt, 11,295 GWh of available unused storage capacity would be available to fill in gaps of intermittent renewable power.  But will this be enough to achieve a zero carbon energy grid?

2017 Chevy BoltCurrently, the United States consumes 3.4 million GWh/year or 389 GWh/hour of electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear.  If we were to replace these with renewables, a 100% electric fleet with an average battery size found in the Chevy Bolt would have more than enough stored energy to keep the country powered until the sun rises again in the morning - 27.8 hours to be specific - and this isn’t touching the 15 kWh in each vehicle battery that is set aside for the average daily driving requirements. 

An Intensive peer reviewed study titled “Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time” evaluated billions of 100% renewable energy grid scenarios using 4 years of real weather and grid load data.  They concluded that with 15kWh set aside from each electric car for grid energy storage a 100% renewable energy grid could power 90%-99.9% of hours entirely on renewable electricity, at costs comparable to today’s prices.  Something to note is that the study was done in 2013 before the second generation of electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt, Tesla 3 and other large battery, mass market vehicles were introduced to the public.  Using 45 kWh for battery storage from a Chevy Bolt instead of 15kWh that was used in the study would increase total storage capacity by 300% making it a whole lot easier and cheaper to run America’s grid on renewables.

V2G integration into our zero carbon energy grid makes sense because it eliminates the needs for investing in expensive energy storage since the vehicles we will be driving could already provide that service.  It also allows a vehicle owner that participates in V2G services to generate revenue from their vehicle while they sleep.

The graph below compares estimates of the installed capacity of photovoltaic power cells made in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2007 by the International Energy Agency with the actual. Propelled by plunging costs and government policy the actual growth made mockery of the forecasts.  

As the same factors hold true for electric vehicles, don’t be surprised when you see a substantial reduction in total US greenhouse gas emissions from a zero carbon energy and transportation sector occurring sooner than you think.   You can help accelerate this transition by making a pledge that your next vehicle will be electric.





EV battery degradation in a V2G environment

A widespread belief is that recruiting EV batteries into a V2G environment would overwork the batteries with the added V2G cycles and would prematurely reduce their working capacity. In the published paper "Deployment of Vehicle-to-Grid Technology and Related Issues" the authors test this concern.  

They built a plug-in vehicle that was interconnected to a power regulation market in the US.  The vehicle was capable of back feeding to the power grid, by integrating a bi-directional on-board AC/DC and DC/AC converter (on-board charger) and a digital communication device into the vehicle. 

One of the conclusions reached by the study was that "[the] degradation of the propulsion battery caused by the additional power transfer is proven to be very small, and thus not a major issue because the charge/discharge power level is much lower than the maximum power of the battery system required for vehicle acceleration."

EV charging away from home 

Another widespread belief is that in a V2G scenario, electric vehicles would often need to be charged at a person's work during the day when solar is plentiful and this would present logistical problems for tracking energy consumption away from home.  I believe that "smart chargers" will easily be able to address this issue by determining which account is consuming the power (the EV owner) and who the power company needs to compensate for the electricity being consumed (business owner).  So aside from adding charging infrastructure at businesses, which is already starting to happen, tracking consumption will be a no-brainer.


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Comments 1 to 38:

  1. In the Netherlands they (cabinet) are toying with a ban on fossil-fuel cars in 2035 (the right) although the left wants to see 2025. They already ban old cars from the city centre — on the highways they compare your license plate and if the car predates certain emission standards, signs warn you not to exit or go into town. The highways for some time now are already being built with facilities under the surface for autonomous driving. Plans are to fit more cars onto narrower lanes spaced close together and driving 150km — such lanes would obviously be barred for manually driven cars. There is a good chance that fossil-fuel and manual driving will run into simultaneous elimination, manual-driving because people don't heed rules and speed limits and a lot of energy and trouble could be saved on speed bumps [it would be interesting to know how much energy stop signs and speed bumps cost] and investments in safety. There is still a challenge in building enough renewable energy of course.

    Things will happen faster than people think. If more people here were less complacent about melting ice and SLR [the country is under sea level, and everybody takes it for granted there will be no problem raising sea walls and barriers for centuries], there would be quite a lot more pressure on the government to set an example for other nations.

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  2. Electric cars are not going to be popular right away because of the hassle of charging them up every 100 miles. Hybrids, on the other hand, get up to 500 (50mpg X ~10 gallons.)

    The best of all worlds will be plug-in hybrids. The 2017 model of the Toyota Prius is supposed to go 20 miles only on electric drive alone and about 500 miles on hybrid - gas/electric. Once they get to the point where they have a range of 100 miles on battery power alone the driver will be able to relax knowing that he could recharge his car at home overnight.

    One thing to keep in mind is the fact that battery technology has been coming down in price, becoming denser in energy storage, and getting safer. The technology is improving fast - every year sees a notable improvement.

    With clean energy as it's source, you can have an 80 to 100% reduction in fossil fuel emissions from vehicles alone.

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  3. Villabolo @2

    I was wondering about that as well. I agree hybrids with really decent batteries would cover all eventualities, with 100 miles plus on battery and much more on petrol. It's an appealing option, but obviously not zero emissions. That's your real problem. It also adds cost and complexity of two engines, although I admit that is not a huge issue.

    Looking at fully electric cars with 100 - 150 miles range, this does cover most trips, and can be charged overnight. People charge their smartphones every day, and it hasn't stopped them being popular.  

    Most people make short trips, plus a few long trips on holiday. It's not such a big issue to stop for an hour for a coffee or two while the car charges, or rent a very long range electric car for the annual holiday. It's just a mental adjustment and planning thing. 

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  4. It is interesting to see a diferent method of addresing the issue of storing power for need.  Several different options are offered by this article, Jacobson and the Budischak article linked in the OP.  It will be very interesting over the next ten to twenty years to see which of these options turns out to be the most practical and cheapest.

    It is always better to have several options when you are trying to solve a difficult problem.

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  5. As an owner of a Chevy Volt I'm not too keen on using my car battery for storage/retrieval by the power network. I see it degrading my battery way before its time. I would be willing for it to be used to store excess grid power (hopefully at a discount) but not retrieval by the grid. 

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  6. Jtfarmer,

    If you plan to charge on windy days (or sunny days) and then have enough power to not charge for several days that would help the grid a lot.  Forecasts of wind and sun are already very accurate for several days out.  You could adjust when you "fill" your car to help reduce demand on slow days.

    Different people will decide what they want to do.  Everyone does not have to participate the same way.  For the right price I would return power to the grid.  If the price was too low I wouldn't.

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  7. There are some limitations here. I have a Volt, too, and the pure electric range (50 miles) is too small to provide utility backup and still be a useful electric car. For something like the Bolt, with >200 miles range, there's enough extra capacity to be useful, but there will need to be the flexibility to declare the car off limits for days when you need the full range. 

    House systems are another matter - I have 150A 220V service at my house, and a full charge for a Bolt would require something like 12 hours at 30-40A for completion; the just isn't the capacity for household falls charge/discharge at higher amperages. That's a basic infrastructure issue.

    Given that high demand is often daytime, perhaps emphasizing workplace chargers/sources for use when you're parked at work?

    And perhaps a partial solution might be helpful, too - when extra per is needed, and the car is available, run the house off the car and reduce demand accordingly?

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  8. I just love my electric car. I find it truly annoying that just about every article on electric cars brings comments about cars running on coal. I like to remind people that if your car is running on coal, then so is your refrigerator, air conditioner and big screen TV, so the problem is really not the car, but the coal plant. I've never seen anyone advocate that we should run our refrgerators on gasoline because it is "cleaner".

    In any case, we are getting much less of our power from coal and an ever greater portion of our power from clean renewables. Ironically, this is even indirectly making gasoline fueled cars a bit cleaner, since refining oil into gasoline takes a huge amount of electric power.

    That is why, contrary to what some people say, gasoline cars are never as clean, never can be as clean, as electrics. When you drive using gasoline, you've already used a lot of electric power just to refine your fuel, then you are burning the stuff on top of that!

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  9. jtfarmer.

    You raise an important point. Battery performance is ultimately sticker price and lifetime. Managing how our batteries are used to maximise life-time (or not negatively degrade it) is going to be an important part of the future.

    Lots of ideas out there that are great at a conceptual level but the nitty-gritty can be more complex.

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  10. nigelj

    There is an interesting transition pathway here. A friend just bought a Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid. Only about 50 km on batteries. The technology is essentially a petrol motor and an electric motor driving gearbox etc.  So very much conventional technology. That is phase 1.

    Phase 2 is an all-electric drivetrain - electric motors only, goodbye gearboxes. But still a combustion engine but instead it drives a generator to produce electricity to drive the motors or charge the batteries. Actually mechanically much simpler and the combustion engine can now be designed for efficiency rather than the wide power/torque demands of driving.

    Then phase 3 does away with the combustion engine.

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  11. Villabolo wrote "Electric cars are not going to be popular right away because of the hassle of charging them up every 100 miles.”

    Villabolo, you need to get out more. While the Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul and BMW i3 all currently get in the range of 160 km/100 miles per charge, the Chevy Bolt gets 383 km (398 max)/238 miles and the Tesla Model 3 will be in the similar range, so the range hurdle has already been lowered considerably, and the steady roll-out of a fast charger network is lowering it further. Remember, 100 years ago there weren’t all that many gas stations either. That said, although I’m considering buying a Bolt I plan on keeping my ten year old Prius for use on trips to destinations where chargers will be few and far between or non existent, or for times when I need more cargo capacity than the Bolt provides.

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  12. jtfarmer-

    You are absolutely correct - this concept is really nothing but a pipe-dream with present battery technologies.

    Most of the Li-ion batteries have something on the order of 1000 charge/discharge cycles before they lose a significant fraction of their capacity (and mileage range). Thus, if you are recharging a couple times a week (say every 3.6 days), that is 100 charge/discharge cycles per year. That means your battery will last around 10 years before it is effectively no longer very useful and needs to be replaced (this is probably more  like 5-7 years in reality with other factors). 

    Now, you hook that battery up to 'act as a grid buffer', and if you end up discharging and recharging 3x as often, you drop your battery life from 10 years to 3 years. NO ONE should consider doing this with an expensive, lightweight Li-ion battery in their car. There are FAR cheaper options for battery technology which are not 'lightweight', but do not need to be. Degrading our electric car batteries to support the grid makes zero sense UNLESS costs to replace them drop enough that they become 'disposable' (and recycleable). 

    Dig a hole in the ground  and use a heavier but robust battery technology that is cheap to support grid draws and buffer wind and solar; trying to use Li-ion from electric vehicles will simply degrade batteries so fast, consumers will get VERY pissed off that their cars no longer have the range they did when they were new, and people will be less likely to spend the extra money on a vehicle which 'wears out' prematurely.

    If we get battery tech that can last 10x longer in cycling, only then does this become a viable option. Until then, chalk it up as a pipe-dream in my book. And I'm all for electric vehicles - just put cheap batteries in the ground to support the grid, because you have space, weight is a non-factor, and you have FAR better temperature homogeneity for them to boot....

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  13. A wee problem with this concept is that most people will want their electric vehicle fully charged up in the morning when they head off for work.  I suspect that the real effect of electric vehicles on the grid will be to be able to some extent to be able to be charged when power is available rather than on demand.  This is not as effective as what is proposed here but is still of significant value.  You can charge up at work when the sun shines and the wind blows or at night if there is cheap power available due to a windy night.  All this requires a grid which varies the price of power according to availability and sends the appropriate signal to the user to turn on and off his charging station according to what the user has programed into his charging computer.

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  14. William @13, yes batteries getting drained by demand from the grid is an issue. But the grid would probably be drawing power from cars only when the grid is in very short supply, and it would be drawing power from many cars, so might only draw a little from each car, assuming plenty of cars are linked into the scheme.

    It may also be possible to design a car so that only a certain level of power is drawn, to ensure plenty is available in the morning. It should be possible to design things so that the owner can determine how much power is drawn.

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  15. Recommended supplemental reading:

    The End of Range Anxiety by Marlene Cimons, Nexus Media, Mar 1, 2017

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  16. Makes sense from an energy point of view. But we need mass transit as an alternative. BTW, any figures onlife-cycle analysis of electric personal vehicles (mining, manuracturing, recycling, etc.)?

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  17. Recently, my local electric utility came by with an offer - for a small break on our bill, they installed a controller on our air conditioner that can be used to remotely and briefly shut it down during peak demand times to mitigate shortages.  We agreed - It just made a lot of sense, allowing them to handle higher peak demand spikes without the cost of adding additional rarely used generators.

    It occurs to me that car chargers could be made with that capability built in - 10% longer charging times on occasion would be a small price to pay for electrical utility management, and hardly noticeable. 

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  18. The use of EV batteries to provide additional energy for the grid durng periods of peak demand could cover periods of peak demand 1. if grid management had access to EV batteries when those periods occur - most likely during the daytime and 2. if sufficient EV's were in use, which currently is not the case, though it maybe by 2025.

    However, by 2025 utility-scale storage devices are likely to be available, enabling rapid access to the energy needed to cover peaks in demand and this would obviate the need to access car batteries for back-up energy.

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  19. The whole area of storage is going to take off and grow far more sophisticated. A lot of current thinking (no pun intended) is very preliminary>

    I think we will see a very hybrid storage network out there. Large systems like pumped hydro, storage as heat, flow batteries, other mechanical type systems. Then static chemical batteries like Li-Ion and follow-ons like magnesium.

    Also missing from this mix is consideration of ultra-capacitors. Maybe not up to storing what batteries can but really really good at the very short charge/discharge cycles. Ideal for protecting chemical batteries from short cycle effects.

    Just because the battery in your car only lasts 10-7-5-3 years doesn't mean that you will need a complete new battery pack. An important development might be batteries that can be refreshed/regenerated with much less resources and effort. So when you swap the battery out, the replacement isn't brand new, its just an old battery that was sent off for a 'grease and oil-change'.

    Then a wild card development might be the alternative means of charging. Inductive Charging. Non-contact, remote charging. Initially perhaps just a more convenient charging system at home or the office - park and it charges. But it can actually be extended to the roads themselves - inductive charging is possible on the move. Charge up while you sit at the lights, or cruise along the highway. Obviously a huge infrastructure roll-out but that might change the mix - cars with much less storage (I wont say batteries) that are being regularly recharged through the day. Maybe much less battery capacity needed.

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  20. Jdeutsch @16: The Union of Concerned Scientists had a report about the life-cycle costs, etc of EVs: Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave.

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  21. Tthereaer two issues ignored in this OP.

    1. Amount of power transfer between grid and EV batteries needed to balance the grid. To achieve zero emissions, substantial part of the total power output of the economy (in US it's a staggering verage 10kW/person) must be supplied by car betteries overnight when the sun is not shining and in the event the wind is not blowing. That drawdown at night must be ballanced by twice the production during the day (20kW/person) even ignoring seasonal/weather fluctuations. If taken into account, those fluctuations (e.g. extreme heat or winter snow when days are dark/short) multiply the demand on the grid several folds. How much solar pannels installations do we need to supply that energy - at least an average power of 20kW/person? How big the transmissions lines need to be to supply that energy from car batteries to hungry energy customers, e.g. alluminum smelters? Then comes the question of energy security: what happens if majority of population forgets to "re-plug-in" their cars in the evning, or decides not to do it because of some massive hysteria (e.g. inspired by an irresponsible presidential tweet), or simply in the name of american freedom to drive their car wherever and however they want as Henry Ford thought them? The result: total grid collapse. I think from the energy security standpoint alone, the idea of substantial grid backing by EV batteries is just pure utopia.

    2.Energy density of oil/petrol and associated convenience of its transport and almost instantanous re-energising at the bowser cannot be replaced by the existing EV technology. The miracle of that energy density compressed into oil (and to coal) by 100Myear long geo-processes is difficult to reproduce in a timescale of days (e.g. by solar panels) needless to say a few minutes by a customer at the bowser. At the moment, the only imaginable solution would be to lift the battery with a crane and replace it with another one. Say, it's about 400kWh of energy (equivalent of 8litres of petrol/2gallons of gasoline for a very, very efficient car). If a servo station performs about 100 such operations per hour (average traffic on petrol stations I witness arround my neighbourhood) then each of them must have the rechyarging power supply of 400kWx100=4,000kW. That's a signifficant infrastructure. Until it is not built, we are stuck with proverbial EV "runing on coal".

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  22. Glenn Tamblyn@10,

    It's worth noting that your Phase 2 was already resolved for more than 60 years - diesel electric railway locomotives - the most efficient self-contained ground transportation technology today.

    Why Phase 3 (I understand you mean EV carying its own electric charge) did not happen in rail transport yet? Answer is in my post above: it's next to impossible to recreate the miracle of energy density and convenience of diesel fuel. Of course we have pure electric locomotives (they came, not surprisingly, even earlier than diesel electrics. But they cannot be self contained: they must consume external energy via an overhead wire or a third rail.

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  23. Chriskoz, you have delivered some much needed scepticism of the logical kind. My immediate reaction was the whole use of car batteries to power the grid would be too complicated to make work.

    Regarding whether people can be relied on to plug their cars in. You could probably determine a level at which you have high reliability (at a comparable level to the conventional grid)  but it might deliver low participation, and so not much electricity.

    But being sceptical of your and my own scepticism, maybe there could be incentives to encourage participation, and a contractual agreement, and Trump won't be there forever. He is an anomaly (please I hope so, there can't be endless complete idiots).

    The ideal solution is a better battery. While I'm not a technology dreamer that thinks anything is possible, it seems odd that we can't devise some cheap form of battery of high capacity. Perhaps there are such things, but the oil companies have bought up all the patents.

    Or perhaps conventional batteries could close much of the gap in supply. For very extreme conditions maybe we have to rely on fossil fuels like gas, that can be turned on rapidly, and sequester this carbon in the ground or something. But again, this creates a technically complex system, and would have to get through all the political complexity as well. We could be stuck with coal like you say, but that's so depressing.

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  24. Chriskoz,

    We need to consider the entire future grid.  Storage of electricity in cars will not be the only method of storing electricity.  If the only action that people take is to stop charging their car when electricity supply is low, that will help support the grid a lot.  Many people with a Bolt (240 miles per charge) who only use 40 miles a day will be able to easily go over several days without charging their car.  I do not fill up my car with gas until it gets low, do you imagine that everyone will require daily charging for electric cars?  Like the airconditioner mentioned above, with a small incentive people will delay charging until they need the fill up.  Transportation uses approximately 29% of total US power.  It would be possible to delay a large fraction of that use for a few days until a new weather system arived to spin the wind generators. 

    More electricity is used during the day than at night.  There is no reason that we need to generate  as much electricity at night as during the day.Power demand curve Generation that covers the peak demand during the day will only have to generate 25% at night to cover needs.  It is never windless over the entire USA, especially those areas that ae naturally windy.

    Other adjustments will be made to cover windless nights.  Currently hydro power is primarily used to cover peak power from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.  there is nothing stopping hydro from running fom 7:00 pm until the wind picks up.  Since hydro currently generates about 5% of total power, it could generate almost all of electricity needed during most of your windless night.  No new hydro needs to be built, we only need to change the time of day the turbines are run.  It is also possible to cheaply add turbines to current dams to increase the peak power they can generate for the rare windless night.  Hydro would then be run at minimum flow rates for several windy nights to allow the reservoir to refill.

    I took a rafting trip down the Colorado river many years ago.  There is a strong tide on the river as each days peak generation surge of water goes by.

    Currently existing gas peaker plants can supplement hydro while renewable energy backup plants are built.   It is currently not economic to build out a lot of renewable storage because you make more money just selling the electricity on the open market.  Once wind and solar have displaced baseload power it will be more economic to build out other methods of storage.

    Many other methods are available to store electricity for windless nights.  Focusing on a single, new, limited  method of storing energy, as several posters have done on this thread will always result in finding that the method fails.  No-one suggests using a single method of generating power on widless nights.  

    Jacbson and Budischak both use zero batteries in their plans to power the world with renewable energy.  Budischak finds batteries too expensive to build.  This OP suggests a way to add significant battery power to the grid for free. The batteries are built for another purpose entirely and excess capacity is used to support the grid.  That can only reduce the cost of a renewable grid as proposed by researchers like Jacobson who have conservatively left out htis option.  

    I have also seen it proposed to use old batteries from cars, which have 75-80% of their storage left, as backup for the grid.  Since the batteries have already been used their cost would be low.

    Think through these proposals.  Cars alone cannot support the grid.  That does not mean that the grid cannot be supported, it means that cars will only provide a fraction of the needed support.  Since it would be free to use car batteries as described that would lower the cost of any renewable grid.  Just shifting charging time lowers cost significantly.

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  25. In my post above it should say "generation that covers the peak load during the day will only have to generate 50% at night".

    Shifting charging times of electric cars and other flexible energy use would significantly lower usage on windless lights beyond current usage.  Baseload plants currently pay users to use excess electricity at night.  Renewable energy plants would compensate users differently to adjust total power loads.

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  26. Suggested supplemental reading:

    UBS Analyst Gets Future Investment Costs For Tesla Supercharger Network Super Wrong by Loren McDonald, Clean Technica, Mar 5, 2017

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  27. michael sweet@24,

    ATM, I have only time to quickly acknowledge your response, thanks.

    This topic can be discussed at length. Briefly, I agree with all point you make. They confirm my opinion that, contrary to how this OP was written, EV batteries cannot be and will not be the main source of grid backing. They will play only a supplementary part, and a small one. The main part must be played by all the storage options you describe, that can be far more secure to start with.

    From the cother commenters I see that the way EV batteries are currently used, they are big source of energy drawdown at night while they are driving during the day: the opposite to what they should do. Consumers are absolutely opposed to exploiting their batteries the required way and don't want to discharge them to the benefit of the grid because it shortens their lifetime. So they stick to the stigma of "running EVs on coal", even though no doubt the majority of them don't like to be seen that way. It comes down to the economic insentives: if the price of the so called "off-peak" nightly tarrif (for energy generated mainly from coal in my state of NSW) was higher, much higher than the daytime energy, then those EV battery owners would do everything to charge it at day from their solars and sell the charge at night. This is the main, crucial incentive, a link to the renewable grid. A cheap, and most importantly, a secure coupled storage is another link. I don't see EV batteries to take that role as currently they are not cheap (and I don't see them becoming cheaper over time because their production require mining of rare minerals) and they are simply consumers rather than producers. We have short moments when people let them be producers when the price of energy spikes very high, like on Sandy aftermath: the energy prices went to essntially infinity. But we're not talking about disaster management here: rather about the main grid operation. I arguee once again, that for grid sustainability, we need fundamental shift of economic incentives for a large energy consumer like the EV battery fleet, to become energy producer in order to balance the grid. And that applies to other consumers cappable of energy storage, e.g. house solar batteries. In looks obvious to me, that house solar batteries (as opposed to EV batteries) have much much higher chance of becoming this "missing link" in zero energy grid in OP sense, because they can be far more reliable to start with. But I would still argue that the electric battery technology will be only a minor player in the big picture of balancing grid operations: a cheaper storage is required, and with a good energy density, although I doubt humanity ever be able to compress renewable energy on the required scale to the levels compressed in FF. But tha latter is not really required to achieve zero emissions.

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  28. Chriskoz,

    I think that we are not very different in our thinking.  I look at the glass as half full now.  Perhaps since Australia has so much coal, and does not have as much renewable energy as the USA does, you are more skeptical than I am.  It is best to have skeptical opinions reviewed to keep enthusiasts in line.

    Without seeing any calculations, I doubt that cars can contribute more than a few percent of needed power at night.  On the other hand, if cars were charged during the solar maximum during the day it would dramatically lower night time need for electricity.  This graph from Thinkprogress

    Current Claifornia electricity use 

    Appears to show that the largest grid operator in California got about 9,000 Megwatt from utility solar power on March 3, 2017.  The top of the demand curve has been knocked way down by distributed solar.  Comparing demand at 19:00, after the sun goes down, to the graph I posted at 24, it appears that the peak demand at 14:00 was reduced by at least 4000 Megwatt by distributed solar.  Total peak demand was probably about 28000 Megwatt and solar provided half of that power for several hours.  Hydro and nuclear baseload would have provided much of the remaining power.  California will get several hours more direct sun in June than in March.

    It is still very early days installing solar.  Only a few years ago solar cost twice utility power.  Now you save money by installing solar on your roof.  With another few years of installing solar, during the solar peak there will be no demand for baseload power.  That is not even considering wind.  It will be very interesting  to see a similar graph on a windy day this summer.  Utilities will have to lower electricity cost during the solar peak to incentivise users to charge electric cars durig the day instead of at night. 

    It is discouraging to have electric cars running on coal power.  We have to take the long view.  Both the cart (electric cars) and the horse (WWS power) have to be built at the same time.

    Every method of storing electricity for windless nights reduces the final cost of the grid, even if it is a small contribution.  Car batteries will not do it all but they can reduce the final cost.

    Jacobson likes Hydrogen (manufactured by electrolysis during periods of high wind/solar) as the primary energy storage.  The hydrogen could be stored in current natural gas facilities.  Fuel cells (still in scale up from lab models) would be the most efficient method of generating the electricity.  Many other methods of energy storage are being considered.  Grid interconnections will allow transfer of excess wind or solar from one area to other areas.  It is difficult today to predict what methods will end up being the most economic.

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Adjusted image size.

  29. Michael - I have somewhat belatedly stumbled upon this article on my specialist subject! I tend to look at the subject through a UK lens, where we have particular problems due to our high latitude "maritime" climate.Why do you "doubt that cars can contribute more than a few percent of needed power at night"? Is that via an Antipodean lens?Here we don't have many air conditioners compared to the US and Australia, and although many folks don't like having it "in their backyard" there's lots more onshore wind around than solar PV.A "halfway house" to full bi-directional V2G technology is so called "smart charging":'t that help in your neck of the woods too?
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  30. Jim,

    There are a lot of ways to store power and shift demand.  These demand shifts can substantially strengthen the grid.  Using car batteries or home batteries like the Tesla powerwall are one method.  

    Methods for predicting several days in advance when renewable energy will be plentiful and when it will be harder to come by are well developed already.  I personally think  that shifting charging periods from low periods, like windless nights, to high periods like windy days will be easy to implement and substantially reduce demand during the low periods.  

    I think the barriors to using home batteries to distribute power to the grid are substantial.  This is just my opinion. Home batteries (or cars) could well result in those homes not needing any power from the grid during low supply periods which would effectively support the grid.   

    Wind and solar are already the cheapest power available during sunny days and windy periods.  In order for the grid to go entirely renewable, storage and/or load shifting will  have to be developed.  There are currently a lot of methods of shifting demand or storing energy for use during low supply periods.  A few of those methods will turn out to be the most economic.  

    All of us have our own favorites.  I have no doubt that some of my favorite methods will fail while others will succeed, but I do not yet know which methods are the ones that will succeed.  Your favorites are probably somewhat different from mine.  Perhaps your guesses will end up better than mine.  I think it is too early to decide which methods will work in several decades.  Only 5 years ago I did not think that solar could be cheaper than wind but solar has made amazing cost cuts recently.  Which technology will develop the most in the next ten years?

    Scientific projections of future grids that generate all power used (all power, not all electricity) in the USA like Jacobson 2015 do not use demand shifting or home storage at all.  This means that the final grid will be cheaper than Jacobson estimates since any demand shifting will reduce demand for more expensive storage.

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  31. Michael - There are certainly "barriers to using home (and/or EV) batteries to distribute power to the grid" here in the UK. Not least of which are the regulations. Amongst other things electricity markets need to be redesigned so that a "prosumer" or EV fleet owner can earn an honest crust from allowing their batteries to be used to support the local distribution grid when needed:

    Personally I'm not entirely convinced by some of the assumptions Jacobson et al. make about the "final grid" in their papers.

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  32. I am also not convinced by all of Jacobson's assumptions.  However, he finds that there are many other options that would work.  He only has space to talk about the scheme he thinks is best.  SInce he counts no load shifting from current use, any load shifting scheme would make it a lot easier to generate the power needed.  If electricity was cheaper during the day many users would switch to charging then.  People charge at night now because coal and nuclear cannot shut down.  In 20 years I expect charging stations at parking lots to be common.  Current load shifting schemes (like pumped hydro discussed on another thread) would obviously switch to generating whenever power is most expensive.

    I think Jacobson's conservative assumptions about load shifting will more than compensate for his options that I do not like.

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  33. Some good news regarding grid scale energy storage developments in the UK. A while ago the Pumped Heat Energy Storage company Isentropic went into administration having come close to designing the first grid scale unit that was to be tested at a UK sub station.
    Isentropic is now a part of a research facility of Newcastle University, which is frankly brilliant news because Isentropics technology offered excellent scalable levels of storage, with low costs and low losses.
    The sub station unit is currently being commissioned and will start operations this summer!

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  34. I installed a 3kW Solar PV system and needing a new car, purchased a plug-in hybrid. In my latitude, 38°S, comparing the year before with the year after, I reduced my annual petrol consumption from 1200L to 190L, saving $1,300. The PV system meant that my electrical energy did not increase. As for CO2 emissions, the PV system displaced 4MWh per annum. The emissions intensity of petrol is about the same as that of the electrical energy generated from brown coal. The oil industry should be worried.

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  35. This is an interesting article on the scarcity of cobalt for batteries for electric vehicles.  


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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Hyperlinked URL.

  36. John Hartz

    Copy and paste did not work for a url.  Can you again direct me to where the instructions are to provide a link?  Thanks.

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  37. NorrisM:

    You need to linkify the link within the comment box before submitting. Otherwise it is just more text.

    Type in some text (either the link itself, or text you want displayed in place of the link). Select it with the mouse. Click on the "Insert" tab above the comment box. In the new set of pictures that appears as menu choices, click on the one that looks like a chain link or infinity symbol. A dialog box opens up. Put the link/URL into the text box labelled Link URL. Click on "insert".

    If you haven't already selected some text before opening the link dialog box, it will have two text boxes to fill. One for the text you want displayed, one for the actual link. You will need to put something in both boxes. Then "insert".

    If this doesn't make it clear, I will try to create some pictures.

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  38. Bob Loblaw @ 37

    Thanks.  I have saved the instructions for next time so hopefully no pictures required. :)

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