The looming electrification of the auto fleet raises a host of important questions, ranging from restructuring manufacturing to the impact on oil imports. Lost in all this mayhem are the benefits to Maryland’s electricity sector. (Maryland has announced a $1 million grant program to encourage electric vehicles.)
We’re talking about vehicles that connect to the grid: PHEVs and EVs. These will mostly charge overnight and store enough power for a round-trip commute. The batteries in these vehicles are not like the ones you pop into a flashlight or camera. They are complex storage systems that include sophisticated computer controls that can be integrated with power transmission information systems.
Our electrical grid is in desperate need of storage. Grid-connected car batteries could perform two very useful functions in Maryland, where transmission is controlled by PJM Interconnection. These are frequency control and storage.
Frequency control has to do with the delicate balancing act required to maintain the entire power network at 60 Hz (so that clocks won’t run too fast or too slow). Tiny changes in power are needed to achieve this balance between the massive generation plants and the small, unpredictable changes in load. (Hour-by-hour changes are more predictable.) It is difficult and costly for large generators to provide this service. However, it could easily be provided by a network of auto batteries. Only a relatively small amount of each battery’s capacity would be required at any time — one percent or so. PJM would happily pay car owners for this service.
A bigger benefit is the overnight storage capacity. EVs and PHEVs could be charged when the price of power is lowest — in the early morning hours. Even with only 3 GWs of wind on the PJM network, the market effect is already significant. Because the wind blows more at night in the Appalachians and nuclear plants must run at some minimum rate, the cost of generation can be zero during the early morning hours. This will make electric veheciles ven more economical and low carbon for their owners.
Connecting more wind to the grid will only add to the problem of producing power when it’s not needed. Increased storage is necessary in order to accommodate more wind — like the massive offshore resources available to Maryland and other coastal states. Electric vehicles are the best near-term prospect for adding significant storage capacity.
This is why the University of Delaware’s Professor Kempton, a foremost exponent of offshore wind development, favors the rapid introduction of grid-integrated electric vehicles. Offshore wind and grid-integrated vehicles must develop in tandem. (UD owns several plug-in vehicles that are already integrated with PJM’s frequency control system.)
PJM needs offshore wind in order to reduce its massive carbon bigfoot.
You can peruse recent presentations on this topic by Professor Kempton and a PJM representative here.
Grid-connected vehicles providing distributed storage will also bring significant benefits in managing the reliability of the grid.