Distributed Energy (which is mainly rooftop solar these days) with hundreds of electric vehicles connected to local electricity grids could have a major and positive impact on electrical grids in the United States.
The Solar Future
The landmark Royal Dutch Shell report, NEW LENS SCENARIOS predicts that solar energy will be the main electricity source by mid-century — and the main transportation energy source.
Shell has solar surpassing all other forms of energy including coal, nuclear, petroleum and natural gas, and sees it as a process already begun.
Batteries get a Following
Therefore, we are ramping-up to solar being the largest source of energy by 2070 at the latest, according to the report. Ergo, we need batteries. And it’s going to be a huge business.
There are many battery systems in use in the world today, some old and some new.
For example, an old time energy storage method (a ‘battery’) is the pumped storage system at some hydro-electric dams, which has augmented the ability of hydro-electric power generators to provide uninterrupted power during dry seasons, or during shorter periods of drought.
Some conventional pumped storage sites have won prestigious awards for providing reliable power with minimal resources over a period of many decades. See; Ludington, Michigan Pumped Storage Plant.
Home battery storage solutions are being explored and major investors such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet know that while solar is the future of energy, it will require huge R&D and large infrastructure, but has the potential to pay magnificent returns, à la Microsoft or Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Although distributed energy is not an energy storage solution, it is another exciting way of using energy and shows enormous potential. If a small number of solar panels were placed on the rooftop of many homes, commercial buildings, and industrial use buildings in the U.S. and Canada, it would significantly alter the energy equation in North America. There you have the definition of ‘Distributed Energy’.
Again, because we have the Sun available to us for only part of the day, we need energy storage solutions.
With the recent convergence of low-cost solar panels, sophisticated net metering systems, concerns surrounding our continental CO2 emissions, toxic gases and soot emitted from fossil fuel power plants impacting citizen health and climate change, some pieces of the puzzle could serendipitously fall into place.
Distributed Solar power, plus One Battery per Household
Millions of photovoltaic solar panels on homeowner/businesses rooftops across the country could collect vast amounts of sunlight adding huge amounts of power to grid during the daytime when electricity demand is highest.
And the perfect battery is parked in the driveway!
Think of an arrangement whereby the Electric Vehicle is continuously plugged-in and electricity from the grid charges the car battery — but with this arrangement (net metering) the electricity could be fed back into the grid from the Electric Vehicle batteries. Most cars sit idle in the parking spot at home, or at the workplace, for 90% of their usable life.
The U.S. presently has 62 million registered cars and light trucks, of which, 1% are EV’s. However, more EV’s are being added every day.
Think of a future when 60 million car batteries are charged and on-tap for use by electrical utilities, especially at night when the big light bulb in the sky moves to the other side of the planet.
Can the large scale use of different kinds of batteries, like pumped storage, home batteries, and EV batteries improve our national grid?
Here are some questions we should ask:
- Is it impractical (and frankly a waste of resources) to have a battery in every home to store solar energy for overnight use AND have a battery in every car?
- Why should we have millions of home batteries AND millions of car batteries, when one big battery in the car (and all the other cars that are plugged in overnight) could dramatically contribute to the energy storage pool if required.
- Many vehicle fleets move only occasionally, but must be kept ready for almost instant use. FEMA vehicles, military vehicle fleets, city, municipal police and other vehicle fleets, snowploughs, graders, semi-trailers and car rental fleets, to say nothing of car lots and road paving equipment — and many more examples.
- All these vehicles may be parked for long periods of time, and if continuously plugged into a net metering connection could accumulate and store energy all day, and release (for example) up to 30% of their storage capacity, still leaving a 70% charge in the battery, allowing the vehicle to be driven a reasonable distance at any given time.
- Some drivers may opt-out as needed, by pressing a button on the charger unit or their phone app.
- Of course, the default setting could be the ‘Contribute to the grid’ setting — leaving a 70% charge in the car battery.
If the U.S. was a socialist country, the President would decree that this would be done immediately as it’s so obviously the right thing
As for the second-largest economy in the world; China will be constrained to legislate this into existence by simple self-interest.
It will be in the Chinese best interest to install millions of rooftop solar panels and store that electricity in one EV battery per household — instead of two large batteries per household (one in the home and another one in an EV).
The population of China is 1.35 billion. One big battery vs. two big batteries per household makes a huge difference in the cost to citizens and national resources
Switching to EV’s and employing the EV battery to stabilize and add power to the grid, would dramatically lower emissions, enhance national energy security while creating many thousands of solar panel manufacturing and installation jobs, many thousands of Electric Vehicle and battery manufacturing jobs, and demonstrate that China is a world leader in distributed energy and environmental stewardship.
If China will eventually do all that, why can’t America?
A precedent for such a bold project already exists in the United States. The Interstate highway system was created by the federal government, ostensibly to help the U.S. military to rapidly deploy personnel, matériel, and equipment throughout the continent in the event of Soviet invasion.
What actually happened with that?
There was never any Soviet invasion — but there was a huge economic leap for the country due to the sheer scale of the construction project, and a second leap due to the rapid and economical transport of people and goods over long distances.
How legitimate is any reasoning that would allow China to beat us to a better energy, environmental, and employment future?
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President (1901-09)
Though the Interstate Highway system was seen as a project fraught with massive risk and cost complete with huge engineering hurdles to overcome, making it an unprecedented challenge even for the United States to undertake, so it may be another massive challenge to add massive distributed solar energy capacity to the existing grid, and connect it to EV batteries parked in almost every driveway.
Respectfully President Obama, it is time for America to ‘Think Big’ and “dare mighty things” and reap the rewards thereof.
Written by John Brian Shannon