You may have heard of the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) concept in which electric vehicles can supply their battery power to electricity grids during peak hours and other electricity shortages. Nissan recently decided to apply a somewhat similar concept to the Nissan Advanced Technology Center in Atsugi City, Japan. The company calls it “Vehicle-to-Building.” During peak hours, when electricity prices are highest, the vehicles supply their battery power to the building, enabling them to avoid this peak charge.
Wait… doesn’t the battery power come from the grid anyway?
Yes, it does. However, the energy stored in the car batteries is cheaper, as it is obtained during off-peak hours, when electricity prices are lowest. Nissan said it achieved this without affecting workers’ commutes, and the electric vehicles‘ batteries are guaranteed to be fully charged by the end of the day.
According to Nissan, this will also be applied to homes. The company calls this “Leaf to Home.”
It is a win-win situation because power grids get to sell their surplus electricity, and homes/buildings get to enjoy cheaper electricity.
Why Does All This Matter? Why Is Electricity More Expensive In The Afternoon?
Typical thermal power plants (coal, natural gas steam, and nuclear) are slow to adjust to fluctuations in power demand. Therefore, when electricity demand spikes during the peak hours mentioned, they cannot scale up in time, and in some cases, they can’t scale up at all, due to a lack of generation capacity. Therefore, peaking power plants are used instead, as they can start quickly to prevent blackouts and brownouts. There is a catch, though. Peaking power plants are expensive, which is why electricity is expensive during peak hours.
Similarly, excess electricity supply from thermal power plants at night results in very cheap electricity at night. In regions where prices are based on this demand and supply balance (like in the story above), if you have the ability to “buy low and sell high,” you can make some serious cash.
Nicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.
A new report published by the Future Grid Forum has outlined four possible scenarios which could represent the way Australia’s national electricity system may grow.
The Forum brought together more than 120 representatives from the electricity industry, government, and community. The aim was to “inform and inspire the national conversation about the future of electricity in Australia.”
The report presented to the participants is available for download here.
The Future Grid Forum presented four scenarios “that have far-reaching implications for the current and future electricity supply chain and would alter the electricity system in Australia.” The four scenarios are:
Set and forget
Rise of the prosumer
Leaving the grid
“All of the choices in the Future Grid Forum scenarios have consequences for the price of electricity, something that has significantly impacted consumers in recent years,” said CSIRO Energy Flagship Chief Economist, Paul Graham. ”Electricity will not get cheaper in the coming decades, but bills can be reduced through the adoption of energy efficiency, peak demand management and on-site generation.”
“These steps, in combination with general wages growth, means the share of income average households spend on electricity is projected to be similar – shifting marginally from 2.5 per cent in 2013 to between 2.3 and 2.9 per cent in 2050 depending on the scenario.”
The four scenarios present ways in which consumers can take greater control of how they consume and produce electricity.
“This proactive shift could potentially influence the business model for the electricity sector, encouraging the emergence of new services to supply an individually tailored product – not dissimilar to the telecommunications industry shift from a one-size-fits-all landline telephone system to a wide variety of mobile and associated data and entertainment services,” Mr Graham said. ”One of the Forum’s scenarios looks at the option for around a third of consumers to disconnect from the electricity grid through the use of on-site generation using technologies like rooftop solar panels and battery storage; and this is projected to be economically viable from around 2030 to 2040.”
“Under the full range of scenarios Australia could see on-site generation grow from the current figure of 8 per cent to reach between 18 and 45 per cent of total generation by 2050, but mostly while staying connected and using the grid as an electricity trading platform.”
The four scenarios are helpfully explained in the following four images.
The Forum is clear to make the distinction between scenarios and predictions.
“They are windows through which we can view potential futures for Australia’s electricity sector and have been developed through extensive quantitative modelling, analysis and social dimensions research,” they note.
Unsurprisingly, the Forum believe that technology is going to play a much greater role in the way that we move forward, allowing for “more sophisticated ways of managing household demand during peak times through the introduction of devices such as smart air conditioners and in-home storage systems.”
“Better strategies for peak demand management could save two cents per kilowatt hour or $1.4 billion per annum on distribution costs for households,” Mr Graham said.
“This is an extraordinary time of change for Australia’s electricity industry and the Forum partners see the release of this report as an opportunity to begin a national conversation to decide the right answers for the sector, its stakeholders and, most importantly, all Australians,” Mr Graham concluded.
Australia has consistently been behind the curve in energy innovation, thanks primarily to heavy reliance on massive coal reserves. Movement has been made — including recent solar records reaching 3 GW — but there is a long way to go.
Joshua S Hill I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium. I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.
I used to write one article per day. But with my editing duties at other publications and posting content to JBS News from authours besides myself, I’m now down to writing once or twice per month. Meaning, I only get to write about the super important stuff nowadays.
So, on that note, let’s cover today’s announcement that Apple’s VP of Mac Engineering, Doug Field, has been hired by TESLA Motors.
Think of the possibilities! When you combine the best under $100,000 car in the world with the full computing power and vision of Apple computer’s top Engineer, the result in a year or two might well be a bona-fide game-changer in this segment of the auto industry.
TESLA has built an almost perfect car with the S model, complete with zero emissions, performance and styling that defines a new class of electric vehicle and (bonus!) an unparalleled pride of ownership experience. Besides more colour and material choices, the ability to improve on the S model is limited. Really, what could you do to improve this car?
TESLA owner, meet a new way of using your car.
If you think about the interface between car and driver, that is one interface. Another interface occurs between the car and the car owner, and yet another interface occurs between the owner/driver, and the utility company.
With the perfect car the only thing to improve on is the role the car performs. It’s a car, right? What other role could it perform? And what has an Apple engineer got to do with any of this?
Let us count the ways that a TESLA Model S could become more than the great looking and great performing near-supercar that it is, with the injection of a visionary Apple engineer into the mix.
Is it a gorgeous EV car, or a transportable battery pack?
1. Homeowners: At the end of the day, every EV driver plugs their car in to their househod electricity, and we all know that some cars or the charger units have the ability to auto-schedule their charging time to meet the lowest electricity rates of the day (usually late at night and into the early hours of the morning).
Now imagine if TESLA’s newest engineer decided to instruct the car’s charge controller software to automatically have the battery in the TESLA allow uninterrupted power to the home in the event of a household power outage? Of course, once grid power was restored by the utility, the car would resume charging and be ready for next use. Everything is automatic.
If you happen to be one of those TESLA owners you wonder why everyone is talking about the big power outage the night before. “What, the power was out?” Try not to be too smug.
2. Solar powered homeowners: For that growing number of homeowners who choose to mount solar panels on their rooftops, owning a TESLA could afford them the opportunity to store the solar energy collected during the day for later use, courtesy of the TESLA’s battery. That energy could be used by the home throughout the day or night, to minimize the amount of electricity purchased from the grid during the most expensive times of day, while still keeping the car battery charged to a minimum drivable charge (whatever percentage of charge the car owner determines is reasonable). At the software charger interface you might see these words; “Never allow charge to fall below, a) 80%, b) 70%, c) 60%, d) 50% when using battery for household power.”
TESLA fleet owners: The obvious thing for small business owners would be to install solar panels on their business rooftop and leave their TESLA’s plugged-in all day. Again, if the grid fails, the business can still continue normal operations — giving them an advantage over their non-TESLA competitors. Larger businesses might want to replace their entire present car fleets with TESLA cars and direct employees to plug-in upon arrival at the workplace, to allow uninterrupted electricity supply in the event of power outages. Not only that, drivers might want to ‘charge up at work’ for free, with the only downside being that occasionally, the car might be leaving work with only a 70% (no-cost to the driver) charge — or whatever the driver has specified as the available default as some people have a longer commute home, than others.
Modulated Demand: In a small-to-medium sized business, even 100 or 200 plugged-in TESLA’s could offer an advantage that their competitors can’t match. (Zero electricity-related downtime, not to mention a 100% clean energy car fleet for starters). For other small fleets such as towns or government agencies for example, cars are for the most part parked, but available when required. Why not leave them permanently plugged-in, modulating electricity flow throughout the day/night? I call this ‘Modulated Demand’ as the car battery can be used to levelize energy flows and free-up energy consumers to purchase electricity at the cheapest time of day/night, instead of the present (most expensive) method.
3. Supplemental Grid Energy: Taking it a step further. Should a utility company spend $15 billion dollars on a large nuclear power plant to meet rising demand, or should it offer a $1000. coupon to each new TESLA buyer who keeps their car plugged-in to the grid for more than 360 hours per month and who is willing to allow up to 30% (or more) of the energy stored in the battery to be accessed at any time by that utility?
(Let’s say the new TESLA owner gets their coupon after 12 months of 360 hrs. per month availability, consecutive months or not, and whether any battery energy was accessed or not. The coupon pays for the privilege and ability of the utility company to have additional on-tap energy during peak energy consumption hours, or during energy production or transmission interruptions).
Easy enough for an Apple engineer to write that code and have the total hours of grid availability and the amount of any battery power accessed (if any), summarized and uploaded to the utility company, so they can properly credit the TESLA owner on their monthly electric bill via net metering.
This doesn’t even begin to cover what the Apple touch could do for TESLA, the private or fleet owners of these great cars, especially homeowners and businesses with rooftop solar, and the utility companies.
Today, a seemingly small but profound shift occurred in the electrical grid/electric vehicle world. Get ready. Even apart from meshing electrical grids with EV’s, it’s gonna be a game-changer.
What do Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have in common? Apart from being very, very rich, it is a growing interest in battery storage and other “smart” technologies that will redefine the way our electricity grid operates – hopefully to the benefit of the consumer.
Gates has built up a collection of energy storage investments – including Aquion Energy, Ambri, and LightSail – and Buffett is a major investor in Chinese electric car and battery developer BYD, soon to unveil a home battery storage solution in Australia.
Last week, Gates and well-known cleantech investor Vinod Khosla last week bought into Varentec, a US company that is developing “smart” technology that will link storage devices and renewables, and lead to what Khosla describes as “cost-effective, intelligent, decentralized power grid solutions.”
Energy storage, as described by investment bank Citi in its new Energy Darwinism report, is likely to be the next solar boom. Citi says the main driver of this investment will not be just to make renewables cost competitive, because they already are in many markets – but for the need to balance supply and demand.
This, in turn, will make solar and other renewables even more attractive. It may even mean the end to the domination of centralised utilities, as storage will allow the industry to split into centralised backup (based around the old rate-of-return regulated utilities model) and much smaller “localised” utilities that harness distributed generation such as solar and storage.
This could be deployed even on a “multi street” basis, Citi says. (Yes, Grant King, the Sydney suburbs of Pymble and Gordon could go off-grid – see our interview with the Origin CEO here). In Germany, some small towns are doing just that, and Citi notes that KfW, the German development bank that kicked off the solar boom 10 years ago, has now begun an energy storage subsidy program.
This presents yet another challenge for generators, which are being displaced by the huge impact of solar generation in markets such as Germany, and in Australia too.
“If, as we expect, storage is the next solar boom and becomes broadly adopted in markets such as Germany, the electricity load curves could once again change dramatically causing more uncertainty for utilities and more disruption to fuel markets,” Citi notes.
This could be good news and bad news for generators and network operators. The first graph (figure 26) shows what is happening to baseload generation on sunny days in Germany with lots of solar. Similar impacts are being felt in Australia and the US. Baseload generation is squeezed out, but flexible gas generation finds a role.
With storage, this evens the output of solar. That’s bad news for flexible gas, because it is no longer needed as much, and while the overall level of baseload is reduced, at least it is fairly consistent.
“So, solar initially steals peak demand from gas, then at higher penetration rates it steals from baseload (nuclear and coal) requiring more gas capacity for flexibility, but then with storage, it benefits baseload at the expense of gas,” Citi writes.
“Who would want to be a utility, with this much uncertainty?”
Citi says that while energy storage is in its infancy, and subsidies will be needed for solutions that right now are still expensive and largely uneconomic, increasing amounts of capital are being deployed in the industry.
“Much of the historic investment in battery storage technology has been in the automotive sector given the development of electric vehicles. However, increasing efforts are being made elsewhere, most notably for the purposes of either small-scale residential storage (via the integration of Li-ion batteries into the inverters which convert solar electricity from DC to AC), or at a grid level.
It is important to note that while the holy grail for the automotive industry has been maximising energy storage capacity while reducing weight (electric vehicle batteries are enormously heavy, and thereby affect range, performance etc), at a residential or grid level, size and weight is far less of an issue.
The industry is still at that exciting (and uncertain) stage where there are many different competing technologies, and it is not yet clear which will emerge as winner(s).
At a grid level investments are being made into compressed air storage, sodium sulphur batteries, lead acid batteries, flow batteries, Li-ion batteries, and flywheels to name a few. These are all discussed in more detail in the report highlighted below.
So while storage is still very much a nascent industry, we should remind ourselves that this was the case with solar in Germany only 5-6 years ago. The increasing levels of investment and the emergence of subsidy schemes which drive volumes could lead to similarly dramatic reductions in cost as those seen in solar, which would then drive the virtuous circle of improving economics and volume adoption.” — Citi
Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.