How Distributed Energy and EV’s could add jobs, increase energy security and lower CO2 emissions

by John Brian Shannon

Solar rooftop installations
Can ‘Distributed Solar’ power add useful electrical power to electrical grids without affordable in-home batteries, allowing the solar energy collected throughout the day, to be saved for night-time use?

The Solar Future

The Royal Dutch Shell report, NEW LENS SCENARIOS is predicting that solar energy will be the main energy source by mid-century — including, not incidentally, the main source of energy for transportation. Shell has solar surpassing all other forms of energy including coal, nuclear, petroleum and natural gas, and sees it as a process already underway.

Batteries get More Fans

Therefore, unknown to the vast majority of people, we are presently ramping-up to solar being the by-far largest source of energy by 2070, according to the report. Ergo, we need batteries. And it’s going to be a huge business once it gets going.

Pumped Storage

There are many battery systems in use in the world today, some old and some new. For example, pumped storage at hydro-electric dams is one type of battery which has augmented the reliable power that dams supply, although conventional PS can be costly. Nevertheless, some conventional pumped storage sites have won prestigious awards for providing reliable power with minimal resources over decades of time. See; Ludington, Michigan Pumped Storage Plant.

Other exciting battery storage solutions are being explored and major investors such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet know that solar is the future of energy, that it will require huge R&D, a large infrastructure, and has the potential to pay magnificent returns, à la Microsoft or Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Distributed Energy

Although distributed energy is not an energy storage solution (a battery) it is another exciting way of using energy, and shows enormous potential. If an average of 10 solar panels were placed on the rooftop or garage of every home, commercial office space, and factory, it would significantly alter the energy equation in North America.

Again, because we only have the Sun for 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.

GigaWatts of 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 and through the mechanism of Distributed Energy, add huge amounts of power to grid during the daytime when electricity demand is highest. But with an affordable battery, energy could also be directed to one battery at nearly every address in the nation.

GigaWatts of Distributed Solar marrying One Battery per Household, and the battery is located in an EV parked in the driveway!

Think of an arrangement whereby the Electric Vehicle is continuously plugged-in whenever it is not being driven, 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. The U.S. presently has 62 million cars and light trucks (of all kinds) that are registered. Every day, more EV’s are added to the nations vehicle fleet.

Think of a future day when 62 million EV batteries are fully charged and on-tap for electrical utilities, especially at night when the big light bulb in the sky moves to the other side of the planet. This has all been discussed in the past and was found to be impractical, from an economic standpoint. But not a technical one.

Tesla_charging_station_with_solar_collector_trimmed
Tesla Charging Station, California. The solar panels on the roof are connected to the grid, and are not directly connected to the car chargers. Image courtesy of: TESLA

The question now is, should this decision be revisited due to breakthroughs in solar panel costs and net metering/distributed energy technology? Not to mention advances in EV batteries and lower EV purchase costs.

Here are some questions we should ask ourselves:

  • 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 everyone else’s car that is 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 and municipal police and other vehicle fleets, snowploughs, graders, farm implements, semi-trailers and car rental fleets, to say nothing of used car lots and road paving equipment — and many more examples. All these vehicles may be parked for comparatively 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 in the morning. (Say, to work, where another charger or regular electrical plug-in is located)
  • Some drivers may opt-out as needed, by merely pressing a ‘Full charge’ button on the charger unit as they may require a full charge for the next day.
  • Of course, the other setting is the ‘Contribute to the grid’ setting (leaving 70% or more) charge in the car battery.

If the U.S. was a socialist country, the President would order a ‘trillion’ dollars be made available to make it happen. And it would happen.

China will be constrained to do this or something like it, once it becomes feasible for their unique situation. It will simply be in the Chinese best interest to install millions of solar panels on rooftops across the country to collect the maximum amount of solar power possible and store it in one large battery per household (in an EV) — 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 battery vs. two batteries per household makes a big difference in cost to citizens and in national resources.

Doing so, would dramatically lower emissions, add stability to the power grid, add to 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 indeed a world leader in distributed energy and environmental stewardship.

If China could do all that, why can’t we?

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, is that there was never any Soviet invasion — but there was a huge economic leap for the country caused in large part by the sheer scale of the construction project and later, the ability to economically transport people and commercial goods quickly and over long distances.

How legitimate are the reasons which would allow China to beat us to a combined Distributed Energy/EV battery infrastructure future, which would add more energy security, more jobs, and better environmental stewardship?

“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 at the time 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 (just as it was when the U.S. sent men to the Moon), so it may be another massive challenge to add distributed solar energy to the existing grid, which is connected to EV batteries parked in every driveway.

Respectfully President Obama, it is time for America to again, “dare mighty things” and reap the rewards thereof.

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