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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Are Electric Cars Our Energy Solution?

Earlier this year, we wrote that It All Comes Down To Storage:

When you think of solar energy, just remember that on the larger scale, all of our energy comes either from our own Sun or from its cousin stars.

The fact that we've been able to mine energy which started with the sun and stored for various lengths of time has been due to the single principle of energy storage. Now, you can see why the real key to our energy future lies in storage.

Now, where will we get that storage? California has a solution and it's electric cars:

The "Cash Back Car" is how the concept is described by Jon Wellinghoff, the recently retired chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. "It provides another incentive for people to buy electric cars," he said.

The technology could solve a potentially serious problem. The power grid, a massive tangle of power plants, transformers and thousands of miles of wire, needs to maintain a steady and balanced flow of power. Sudden surges threaten crashes that can cause blackouts. That makes the stop-and-go nature of energy from the wind and sun a constant source of worry.

A cost-effective method of storing renewable energy and controlling its flow into the system has long eluded the energy industry, which has taken to calling storage the "Holy Grail."

Of course, nothing with electricity is simple. To begin with, carmakers are not in the business of keeping the electricity grid stable. They build cars to perform on the road and worry what all this usage will do to their batteries.

"Almost without exception, their first response is, 'If you use my battery for that purpose, we will void the warranty,'" said Tom Gage, chief executive of EVGrid, a California vehicle-to-grid technology company.

Innovators in the field are gradually convincing car manufacturers of the potential to create a "value proposition for the car owner" and thus boost sales, Gage said. Ultimately, however, carmakers may be put at ease by experiments being conducted by the military.

The Navy has begun an intensive study with MIT to test batteries used only for driving against those that are plugged into the grid for storage.

And the week before Christmas, the Pentagon transported 13 Nissan Leafs to a Southern California Edison charging facility in Pomona as part of a $20-million program involving dozens of vehicles at Los Angeles Air Force Base and the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake.

The Pentagon hopes to eventually employ the technology at bases across the country, which could jump-start mass production of the chargers and software involved.

"We're looking to determine if we can make electric vehicles cost-competitive with conventional vehicles," said Camron Gorguinpour, executive director of the Defense Department's Plug-In Electric Vehicle Program. The department pays about $200 per month to lease a Nissan Leaf. Using a vehicle to store energy, he said, could generate enough revenue to offset most of that cost.

"You could pay close to nothing for the lease," he said.

It's about time consumers got paid for helping to save our society.