By on April 29, 2010

Ah, the amount of ingenuity electric cars trigger. They need to get charged. Cheaply. They need to get rid of the bad rap that creating electricity isn’t the environmentally friendliest endeavor on this planet. So what about wind power? Comes with its own set of problems. Mitsubishi and the Tokyo Institute of Technology got together and devised a method to use excess wind power to charge electric vehicles while saving the power company gobs of money, a.k.a. the dreaded capex problem. The result? A true wind-wind situation!

Windmills produce power when the wind blows. The wind doesn’t give a hoot about peak demand. It blows whenever it feels like it. Power created during low demand times, for instance at night, either goes out the wind-ow, or get it gets stored in batteries. Those batteries are way expensive, they are “are as costly as power generators,” says The Nikkei [sub]

The wind-wind solution? Use the batteries in electric cars. Why pay twice? A system collects data both on power generation and electric vehicle recharging. If there is sudden demand, the power that charges the car batteries gets cut off until excess power is sloshing around the lines again. A field test of the system has already been conducted in Hokkaido, says the Nikkei. We assume, successfully.

A large windmill can charge 200-300 electric vehicles a night. Mitsubishi wants to commercialize the technology in remote islands first. Small grid, and the geography of the island keeps range anxiety at bay. Now imagine the new excuses: “Sumimasen, so sorry, can’t come to work today. We were in the doldrums last night.”

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52 Comments on “Electric Cars, Gone With The Wind...”


  • avatar
    Tosh

    Isn’t this the idea for a lot of the US west coast, where the wind is reliable at night while demand is low?

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      Do you mean like California where the enviromentalists and NIMBYs fight wind generation projects?

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      Or do you mean California, where there are 14000 abandoned turbines? As soon as the subsidies expire for a given farm, the turbines don’t get maintained. I do hope that some day turbines will be cost competitive. The problem is that wind energy is too diffuse and too fickle.

      I look forward to Cape Wind, just because the Kennedys are against it. That’s a good enough reason.

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      Yes, I do mean California.

      But fighting the electric car is like fighting electric lighting and preferring gas lighting.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacfan

      @chuckR:

      Your wish just came through:

      Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today approved the Cape Wind renewable energy project on federal submerged lands in Nantucket Sound, but will require the developer of the $1 billion wind farm to agree to additional binding measures to minimize the potential adverse impacts of construction and operation of the facility….

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    This is old hat and decades away. You need a complete smart metering setup and then some link (most likely wireless) to the car from the home’s electric meter, and then a bazillion dollars in software to ride herd on all the cars being charged/drained. And it presupposes you’re plugged into the grid while the car’s at work so they can recuperate some of that excess stored energy they lent you overnight. Again, a smart metering setup with two-way communications.

    Right now it’s tough enough just keeping the lights on at most utilities. Trying to turn them into the saviors of the planet ain’t going to work anytime quick.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Smart meters are becoming more and more common: I don’t think this is as far away as we might think, especially considering that the capital to upgrade thousands of meters is far below the capital (and will) to build a power plant.

  • avatar
    V572625694

    Wouldn’t it be simpler to just put sails on the cars?

  • avatar

    Good idea for D.C. where the politicians’ hot air could power all the cars!

    John

    • 0 avatar
      grifonik

      I think you’re on to something… And when they run out of hot air, their rotting carcases could make methane for NG automobiles. Whatever is left after that could be fertilizer to grow sugar beets to make ethanol.

      Energy crisis solved. Your welcome.

  • avatar
    stationwagon

    I seriously think there is a conspiracy against hydrogen. Hydrogen is bountiful, hydrogen emits water as an emission, all we need is more efficient hydrogen extracting methods, instead of that being the end of the pursuit to hydrogen, it should be a challenge to be overcome. Was electricity abandoned when the primitive DC distribution systems couldn’t transmit electricity far and efficiently enough. No, instead AC electricity and distribution was developed. I’m all for wind and solar power, but I am against electric cars. although it seems everybody and the media is taking the viewpoint of the corporations and the politicians.

    • 0 avatar
      ChesterChi

      Hydrogen is bountiful ? Where ?

    • 0 avatar
      stationwagon

      oceans, rivers, dead plants, plastics, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      H is always found tightly bound to something else, it’s not an “extraction” process. The process to separate H from H2O is, for some reason, not very efficient. Compressing it or liquefying it takes a fair chunk of energy. And, at the end, it’s not very energy-dense.

      Utilities are looking at using compressed air to store energy. Apparently, it’s much less inefficient than working with hydrogen. Some schemes involve using combined air/gas turbines.

    • 0 avatar
      stationwagon

      that is why we have algae do that for us
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_hydrogen_production

      one real nice way of obtaining hydrogen is the kvaerner process which can use hydrocarbons obtained from plasma arc waste disposal

      this page has many different types of hydrogen production(or extraction as I call it)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_economy

      the page does bring up the inefficiency problem, of pressurizing and transporting hydrogen, which I do admit exist.

      I rather drive a car that uses electricity to obtain hydrogen, than a car that uses straight and direct (thus being more efficient) electricity. I just have firm faith and love for the internal combustion engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      “I just have firm faith and love for the internal combustion engine.”

      Don’t we all? But that should dissolve when you understand the meaning of “Thermal bottleneck.” (Google it — see ‘hyperphysics’ website)

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Expense is a huge problem. Simply, expense is reflective of the relative energy-efficiency of the process… if it costs more to make hydrogen than you can actually get out of it, both in terms of dollars and kWatts, then people are going to naturally opt for processes that cost less.

      And while battery-powered vehicles are still uneconomical (and possibly will stay that way until the transport infrastructure changes to adapt for them), at least they don’t add another loss-inducing step to the equation that hydrogen does.

      If you truly love the ICE, waste biofuels are the most effective alternative we have, so far… but there may never be enough volume to satisfy current demand (though this is true of almost all “alternatives” )

    • 0 avatar
      horseflesh

      There is no conspiracy. The problems with hydrogen storage alone are extremely challenging.

      Check this link and scroll down to “The Real Science of Hydrogen.”

      http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-hydrogen-hoax

      That will give you an idea of the number of breakthroughs needed to make a national hydrogen energy system feasible.

    • 0 avatar
      carve

      Read out the law of conservation of energy. You will ALWAYS spend more energy making the hydrogen than you’ll eventually get back from it.

      After the inefficiences in electrolysis, spending 1/3 of your energy liquifying the H2, transporting it before it boils off (you lose a few % per day), and then the inefficiencys from the fuel cell, you wind up with 30-50% the energy efficiency you’d have if you just charged a battery. BURN the H2, and we’re looking at an H2 vehcile consuming at least 600% as much energy as a battery vehicle.

  • avatar
    undrgnd40

    you mean somebody just realized that electric cars need electricity to be recharged? and you need energy from some source to create electricity? and if we all switched from gasoline to electricity we’d just end up with a different sort of energy “crisis?” brilliant.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Actually no.

      For example, previously we use 100 gallons of gasoline to drive the car 1000 miles.

      Now that we have the default solution of using that same 100 gallons of gasoline to generate electricity, which will power the car for more than 1000 miles.

      Let’s say, the gigantic turbine power generator will extract 100% more energy from the gasoline, as compared to your average 4 cylinder ICE. Assume the battery/motor of the car is a 30% energy burden. Then, overall, you can go 1400 miles with 100 gallon. A 40% improvement at the cost of extra engineering.

      All other solutions will need to be compared to the default one which is a cost baseline. You can’t just say electric cars are not good because a random obscure power generation method is not good.

    • 0 avatar
      undrgnd40

      i understand. lets take another example: california buys the majority of electric cars. maybe enough to put a considerable burden on their fragile electric infrastructure. that’s where i see a different kind of energy crisis. i could be wrong there too, but it doesn’t hurt to consider all the cause and effect.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    One thing I’ve never seen mentioned yet about wind turbines is that we are extracting energy from the wind…which alters the wind flow and subsequent effects. If we accept the premise that the vast majority of the wind advocates are (at best) probably not physics capable students, I do wonder about the “unintended consequences” of what we are doing.

    It happens every else…I’m waiting to see what happens here.

    I do hope that I am wrong, but we ARE altering a natural flow of nature—-and this may or may not have consequences that we are willing to accept.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, what happens is that wind turbines create low frequency noise that is know to drive animals away and people in their neighborhood batty

    • 0 avatar
      Juniper

      Then stay away from Palm Springs.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      This is a good point, and it’s why conservation of energy is the ideal strategy, not finding ways to extend our current, and wasteful, levels of consumption.

      That said, wind (and hydro, and tidal, and likely even solar or geothermal) have impacts that are less catastrophic and directly problematic than petroleum or fission. The lesser of two evils, while still evil, is also lesser.

  • avatar

    No-one is complaining about the four very large wind turbines in Hull, Mass, just outside of Boston. When I visited them I didn’t notice any annoying low frequency noise, and I am easily annoyed by noise.

  • avatar
    stationwagon

    @tosh, I admit it I’m semi-ludditic. heat engines can’t really turn heat into work at the efficiency of non-heat engines. Hell they might even be mechanically simpler. But I love the ICE engine. I don’t trust electricity especially with the issues of radiation and exposure to EM fields. I don’t own a cell-phone nor plan to, my watch isn’t digital and my home-phone has a cord(although it is touch-tone) and I like reading newspapers. I just don’t want to be out-dated.

  • avatar
    niky

    All the furore over EMFs simply misses the point that we are awash in EMFs. Everywhere. Unless you live in a concrete, lead-lined bunker a mile underground, you are swimming in a sea of radiation. That static between stations on the radio or TV? EMF. Emitted by your flourescents and compact flourescents? EMF. Gasoline engines. EMF. (lots of it… in older cars with worn wiring insulation, the engine can cause radio interference) In fact, you’re not supposed to be working on a running gas engine if you have a pacemaker.

    So far, there hasn’t been any solid link between EMF emitted by mobile devices and cancer, though there are tentative links between the heat emitted by mobile devices and cancer… which is why using a headset (for mobile phones) and an insulated pad (for laptops used on… your lap) will go a long way to eliminating any possible risk.

    Am I the only one who groaned at the title? And then at the atrocious wind-wind pun? And again when Bertel repeated it? Bertel, you’re almost bad enough to be British! Get thee to the punnery!

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    If you have hydro electric (dams) on the same grid as wind turbines, then all you do is use less water to generate power when the wind is turning the turbines. Use the saved water to generate more power when the wind dies. “Smoothing” this way is really simple and completely answers one of the urban myths about wind power.

    But it does make sense to have the option to store “excess” wind-generated power in batteries if those batteries happen to be in cars that wouldn’t otherwise need to be fully charged. The next decade probably will see everyone getting smart electricity meters.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark out West

      Dialing up the day’s power demands is way more complex than just spinning up a dam. While it may sound cute and plausible, the process is insanely complex and minute-by-minute. That’s why we have agencies like Cal-ISO

      Right now, wind power generates “petting zoo” electrons for most utilities. It’s there for show. Show me a wind utility and I’ll show you their nuke out back providing base load.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Hydro Dam are not your average Starcraft-game-responsive. Imagine it as a Starcraft game, but with a one day server lag.

      At the three gorge dam, they open the shutters of the dam maybe once every few weeks or even months.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      Denmark does well using hydropower from Norway to back up its wind farms. It works this way. Denmark sells electric power to Norway when Denmark’s wind farms are producing an excess. Norway uses that cheap power instead of its own hydropower. That leaves the water behind the dams for later generation. (They can, and do, cut back on the water to the generators to match the power desired.)

      Problem is, only Norway benefits from this. The Danes have spent a lot of money on wind power capacity. That has benefited only the Norwegians. The Danes have the highest electric power rates and the highest carbon per kilowatt rates in Europe. In spite of (and to some degree because of) their huge investment in wind power.

      Admirable. But not too smart.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Denmark’s commitment to wind power is dumb?

      Don’t they benefit from world-leading expertise in wind power generation? Are they losing money on those wind turbines they sell worldwide? Is the reduction in greenhouse gases not worth something? Or increasing freedom from buying oil from hostile states? I can see Denmark, like Holland, having high carbon output and high power rates because both have a very high standard of living and obviously lack efficient hydro resources. That doesn’t mean they’re dumb or have erred by building wind power. In fact, it could be said that they’re very smart to have recognized the problem early on and quickly doing something about it. Wouldn’t their carbon output decrease the more hydro power they buy from Norway?

      Can you give a citation for Denmark having the highest electricity rates in Europe? Perhaps they tax it more heavily. Perhaps some other countries have large subsidies or do things to a lower standard. Perhaps the balance between rates for residential and industrial use favours industry.

      Denmark meets 20% of their load with wind power and intends to keep increasing this. I don’t see their economy floundering like some countries with little wind generation. Of course, there will be times when the wind doesn’t blow, but connecting to a hydro generator like Norway can solve that.

      When Denmark has excess wind-generated power, some of it can be sold off onto whatever grid systems exist in Europe. The balance, as has been stated, can be “sold” to Norway so Norway can reduce their hydro generation. It’s not dumb to build a system that sometimes produces excess product. Should we shrink farmland because sometimes there’s a bumper crop? Demand can be shaped to reduce this surplus, such as recharging electric cars. Or as grids expand, there are more opportunities to market the excess power.

      As the opportunities for that power grow, so does its value. Norway can use the saved water to generate power later when countries like Denmark need it. So they can sell it back for far more than they bought it for. This does not mean that Denmark is being taken to the cleaners.

      This exact relationship existed between California and British Columbia a few years ago. California was dependent on inflexible thermal and (I think) nuclear generation. BC made huge profits from this. Indeed, there were rare times when California paid BC to take surplus power. But California was not an utter loser. Both locations were able to build less costly generation facilities because they could trade with each other. California could be sure that the highest peak loads could be met. California was able to buy power rather than build costly thermal generation plants that would only be used for peak loads. Except that thermal generation is highly unsuitable for occasional and intermittent use.

      As for whether hydro power can be fine tuned to demand, it certainly is more flexible than thermal or nuclear generation. Starting up and shutting down a reactor or a coal-fired plant takes forever. There are a lot of highly paid people trading in electricity, and the trading is fast-paced like stock trading. Electricity represented by millions of dollars changes hands in minutes, if not seconds. This trading depends on, uses, and even causes continual adjustment of generation, and the players fronting for hydro have by far the best product.

      http://www.metaefficient.com/cars/danish-drivers-to-fill-their-tanks-with-wind-power.html

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      I won’t try here to give details about the Danish experience with wind power. Suffice it to say that:

      (a) Denmark does not get 20% of its electrical power from wind,

      (b) Denmark has not replaced a single thermal power plant with wind power,

      (c) wind power has cost Denmark a fortune,

      (d) Denmark has the largest amount of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity generated in Europe, and

      (e) Denmark’s electricity prices are the highest in Europe.

      On the other hand, Denmark’s use of local combined heat and power plants has proved successful. That could be a model to other countries with similar demographics. The resulting efficiency of Denmark’s use of fossil fuels has been a real boon.

      Contrast Denmark’s wind power with France’s nuclear power. There is a success story. France has the cheapest electricity in Europe, and puts out the least carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour generated. Where Denmark’s wind experience has failed, France’s nuclear experience has succeeded.

      Sweden’s decision last year to abandon plans to mothball its nuclear power plants shows that Sweden was smart enough to learn the right lesson. Let’s hope the Germans too get a little smarter. Not to mention the Americans.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      The article I linked to has the following quote:
      “Currently, Denmark gets about 20% of its total electrical power from wind. On windy days, that percentage can double.”

      I could find no current figures, but for 2007, Denmark domestic customers did have the highest electricity costs in Europe. Others, like Holland, were close. But Danish industrial users paid average rates for Europe. Danish domestic power rates are about 50% taxes, while industrial power is not taxed. So these numbers can be misleading, as can claims based on them. Everything in Denmark is expensive.

      There are all sorts of potential for such rates to not reflect the actual cost of the power. For instance, the BC government skims off millions of dollars per year from the publicly-owned BC Hydro. So BC rates could be lower than they are. It’s important to know exactly what’s going on with Danish power rates, and this superficial discussion does not reveal much.

      Then there’s the excess wind power transferred to Norway and Sweden so they use less water to generate power. What happens to that water? Do Norway and Sweden end up spilling it? No, of course not. They use it to generate power to displace other forms of generation somewhere else on the grid. And “somewhere else” probably means displacing thermal generation. Which probably is not accounted for in the claim about Danish carbon emissions.

      My ill-informed opinion about France and its dependence on nuclear power is that they are bankrupting their future. Some day dealing with the nuclear waste will clean them out. Which country is on better financial footing now, Denmark or France?

      That’s just my opinion. But you stated some things as facts. I think you should show where these claims came from.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      I don’t want to belittle your views. Your points are well taken. These are complex problems. Pretending that they are not, and that the answers are plain to see, does not help anyone.

      My comments come from the research I’ve done over the past few years. After becoming very interested in these issues, I started an electric car company. As part of that, I decided to write a book about electric cars. One part of the book gets into the issue of electricity generation.

      Once I finish the book (or perhaps I should say, if I finish the book), I’ll have someplace to source my comments to.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      This report is interesting: http://www.cepos.dk/fileadmin/user_upload/Arkiv/PDF/Wind_energy_-_the_case_of_Denmark.pdf

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      I looked at that report. Interesting? Maybe.

      From their web site:

      “CEPOS is an independent Danish think tank promoting a society based on freedom, responsibility, private initiative and limited government.”

      Conclusions first and then find facts to fit? Maybe.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      I was thinking that we don’t expect hobbies or vacations to be cost effective. So the Danes may have decided to embrace wind power even if it can’t be justified in narrow, short-term economics.

      I also thought of the old windmills in Holland. Did they fail to see that building and using thousands of those things didn’t make sense because the wind didn’t blow all the time?

      This has been an interesting discussion. It certainly opened my eyes to the complexity of the issue, (and partly due to the complexity) how vulnerable the data is to manipulation, and the probability there are people being paid to spread disinformation on the subject. (Not pointing fingers.)

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    The use of battery powered vehicles as electricity storage sinks is an idea that is very appealing to the electricity production and distribution industry and, at first glance, appears doable. However, in real life, it won’t work: it would increase the number of charge/discharge cycles, shortening battery life, and leave a vehicle, which already has limited range, with an uncertain amount of energy stored in its batteries when its needed to be used.

    Wind power is a baseload electricity provider, the same as coal and nuclear. When wind turbines are interconnected over a large area, power output is smoothed, providing reliable power. (See the Stanford University study “Supplying Baseload Power and Reducing Transmission Requirements by Interconnecting Wind Farms” available at http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/winds/aj07_jamc.pdf)

    California’s wind turbines are small and old technology. Modern turbines can put out a peak 5 megawatts on 300 foot towers and spin at a slow 23 rpm. On the Great Plains, where wind power has the most potential, power capacity factor averages around 40%. That is the total power produced over a full year as a percentage of maximum rated power. Right now, wind is the lowest cost form of new electricity generation.

    The biggest impediment for Great Plains windpower is the lack of collector power lines. It’s not the big 400 kV lines that is the problem, but the absence of 30 to 60 kV distribution lines. That’s a function of our low population density.

    I believe that the best way to manage windpower is not to attempt to store electricity, an ephemeral quantity best produced as it is used, but to over-build the system, so that more turbines are installed than is needed for baseload. Unneeded turbines would be feathered or taken off-grid to be used to produce nitrogen fertilizer by the Haber-Bosch method. This would turn windpower into an analogue of hydropower, which can be used for peak-load power production. However, for such a system to work, a regional super-authority would be required to manage the system and distribute revenue.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Fred,

      You are dead wrong about wind being base load! Base load energy sources are those running 24/7 at or close to 100% output. Yes, if you have many turbines spread out over a large area, you can smooth out the peakiness of the output somewhat, but the simple fact is that wind energy is not and never will be base load, period.

      Energy storage in some form or another is KEY in the large-scale use of this energy resource. The electrical utility grid CANNOT store energy, and at the various utility control centers regionally-located around our country (in the PNW it’s in Vancouver, WA), system operators are constantly balancing the supply/demand scales on a minute-by-minute basis (realistically, about every 15 minutes). The addition of wind energy makes their job even harder, as they don’t have control of when the wind blows and when that wind energy will come into the system (causing them to have to turn down other supply sources if the demand for that energy isn’t there at that time).

      There are pump-storage facilities now which are probably the most economical, as they can take advantage of the wind energy produced at night and then recover that energy later when the demand is higher. One of these facilities has been operating east of San Francisco now for a long time. Supercapicitor (or double-layer, or “ultracaps”) energy storage is probably the next-best option for smoothing out the peaks of wind energy. Flywheel storage is another possible option which has been researched for many years.

      I’m an EE with 20+ years in the industry and one of my best friends is a large wind farm manager down in Oregon–we talk shop quite often. I’m not anti-wind by any means, but it is one of the most difficult sources of energy to use–heck, even solar is much easier to manage as its output is MUCH more predictable than wind. And the wind turbine machines themselves are highly complex (compared to a generator in a dam, for example) and require a lot of maintenance to keep operational. For this reason alone I am doubtful of the long-term viability of wind as a significant energy source.

      What is truly driving this energy source is the mandate for “green” energy which is in high demand right now due to various laws being passed in several states. Much like the Chicago Carbon Exchange that has been set up by Algore to profit from the trading of carbon credits, it’s not science or technical merit that is driving the use of wind energy right now. The other poster has it right–once the current driving forces go away and we let the markets decide, I think a lot of wind farms will eventually be abandoned as too expensive to maintain (much like they were in the first go around during the late 70s – early 80s). Please note again, I’m not anti-wind, just expressing what I see going on.

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    What happens when the wind turbines are using up all the wind? Will my flag hang flaccidly? No cool summer breezes? Will my fall leaves no longer blow into the neighbor’s yard?

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      If turbines are built that dense, I would first worry about my cell phone not working.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      Strange as it seems, a wind turbine does have a definite “wind shadow.” That is why turbines are spaced fairly far apart in the big wind farms. (Although turbulence is also a factor.)

      And you won’t find any big turbines next to residences. They are industrial sites. They are not good neighbors.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Wasn’t there an idea to place many small turbines along major arterial roads and harness the wake of passing vehicles?


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