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October 05, 2011

Wind Energy Has a Friend in Electric Vehicles

Electric car symbol cropped For the most part, a car sits idle in a parking spot or driveway throughout its lifetime. But with the development of electric-vehicle technology, the automobile will be more than just a way to get from one spot to another. With battery technology that can recognize fluctuations in the power grid, future EV owners will be in a position to enhance renewable energy by feeding unneeded power in their parked cars back into the grid.

How does this work? Take the fluctuations of wind energy, for example. The grid is not designed to take on such ups and downs. For EVs, excess battery energy can be returned to the grid and alleviate fluctuations in renewable-energy generation. The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory crunched the numbers and found that if one in eight drivers drove electric, wind power would increase by 12 percent in the Northwest states. Specifically, 2.1 million EVs could boost the performance of wind power by as much as 10 gigawatts -- enough power for several million homes.

The concept further revolutionizes the traditional relationship between energy provider and consumer -- for both the home and the car. NRG Energy has teamed with the University of Delaware to develop the "eV2g," an enterprise that's "commercializing technology that will enable EV owners to sell electric storage services from the batteries of parked EVs to help stabilize the electricity grid." EV owners will get paid for their excess energy. And they'll have control over how much energy they'll return to the grid.

While some energy experts wonder whether EVs will overburden the grid, this developing technology may make EVs a much-needed ally for grid operators. Grid improvements are expected to parallel EV sales in the coming years. Utilities and Western states are already on the move, designating "synchrophasor technology" to measure electricity flows along transmission lines "up to 120 times per second" for grid operators.

Demand for EVs continue to eclipse supply. Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt sales this year have surpassed 10,000, with tens of thousands more on waiting lists or waiting to get on waiting lists. Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Mitsubishi, Toyota's plug-in Prius, and others plan to launch their own versions of EVs by 2013. Experts believe that 1 million EVs on U.S. roads will be reachable by the end of 2016, a mere five years from now.

Visit the Sierra Club's Go Electric Campaign.

-- Brian Foley


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