By on September 14, 2010

EVs are also called “Yes but cars.” As in “Yes, but the power needs to come from somewhere. Usually from a dirty plant with a huge smokestack..” Several companies don’t want to hear that anymore and develop a smart grid that powers houses and cars entirely from renewable energy sources. At least that’s the plan.

According to The Nikkei [sub], Toyota, Panasonic and Japan Wind Development have each built two energy-saving smart homes in the Japanese village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. These houses are not for sale: Engineers will live in these homes, watch the recharging of cars and batteries, and look for  areas for improvement.  Once the engineers don’t experience extended power outages and can drive their cars whenever they feel like it, the system should be ready for prime time.

Toyota will test a system where plug-in hybrid vehicles double as storage batteries for the homes. They will install solar panels and small wind turbines on the houses to find out whether multiple energy sources can be mated easily with battery chargers.

Hitachi will install smart meters that will transmit data on power generation and energy consumption to a control center via a communications network.

The pilot smart grid will use power generated at existing Japan Wind Development wind farms in the village as well as a 100kw solar power plant constructed by Hitachi. The firms hope to control the power supply by making use of storage batteries at the power plants, in the homes and in the cars.

General Electric, IBM and Siemens are working on similar projects.

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31 Comments on “The Answer, My Friend, Is Blowin’ In The Wind...”

  • avatar

    Windmills don’t ever recover the cost of manufacturing and maintaining them. And mining the rare-earths used in their magnets is destroying the environment in parts of China. They are anything but green. But they make some us a quick buck and help others of us feel good.

    • 0 avatar

      “Windmills don’t ever recover the cost of manufacturing and maintaining them. ”

      Please provide a link or other documentation to support such a wild and implausible claim.

      Also, if you wish, please explain why you feel the need to spread false information.

    • 0 avatar

      Um, yeah…better that we send untold billions to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela every year for their nice, clean-burning petroleum products…I’m sure they’ll spend all that money in wise ways that promote democracy and equality on the planet…and also, who really needs the Gulf of Mexico anyway? Buncha whiners down there…blah blah blah ruined ecosystems, whatevever!

      Seriously, you’re asserting that wind power is as damaging to the environment as oil? Document some proof please.

    • 0 avatar

      What you say is true. I did a quasi-study of wind power using results from studies done by various groups and organizations, one being the British “Royal Academy of Engineering” and they, as well as many others who had no reason to pull the wool over the eyes of the public, found that in many examples, the wind was more costly and used more fossil fuels.
       The “Academy” stated “the ‘cost of generating electricity’ is deemed to refer to that of providing a dependable (or “firm”) supply. For intermittent souces of generation, such as wind, an additional amount has been included for the provision of adequate standby generation.” This, simply put, means that if you put up windmills to increase the amount of electricity by, say 30%, you then have to increase the size of your “stable” supply (oil,coal,nuclear,etc.) by the same amount to augment the supply when the wind isn’t blowing, or the windmill is “down” for repair/maintenance. If you don’t, you will have a power grid with the reliability of a Third World country.
      The expanded use of electric vehicles in North America would cause the current power grid to collapse, if not explode. The governments, politicians, power companies, etc. all know this but they don’t want US to know. Wind power is, just as ethanol from corn (our FOOD supply) is, a bad idea. And a really bad joke! So sorry ‘jmo’, ‘sfdennis1’ et al, it just aint gonna fly.

    • 0 avatar

      The “intermittency” that timothy barret is refering to is called the capacity factor – and while you’re right, TB, that windmills have comparitvely very low capacity factors (~30 compared to around 80-90 for most fossil fuel based plants [nuclear has the best!]), they are still more effecient overall. windpower, even without subsidies, in a good location with the highest capacity factor (as in high 30’s) is now cheaper than most fossil fuel sources. i’ve read that a 2.5mw GE turbine costs about 300,000 dollars, although that doesn’t match up to cost estimates for actual fields.

      Here is an easy way to break down costs… 750 MW for 1.7 billion and that is for overall program cost, not just the cost of the windfarm. still a pretty good deal considering you don’t have to pay fuel costs, only maintenance. 

      a 1gw coal plant costs about 1B.

    • 0 avatar

      Capacity factor is a little different from intermittency. The problem with wind is not just that it is unavailable most of the time. It’s also that you never know when it will be available. That type of power is, the way the grid is set up now, of little value.
      Sometimes, in fact, that power has negative value — the windmill operator has to pay to get the grid to take the power. Denmark has the most experience with windmill-generated electricity. That experience has not been pretty. Even though billions have been spent on windmills, and the power produced is subsidized heavily (so that Danes pay more for power than any others in Europe), Denmark’s carbon dioxide generation per kilowatt has not fallen. In fact, it’s risen.
      On paper you can design a profitable, low-carbon wind farm. In real life, you cannot make one. I don’t see that changing in the future. Unless in the future we find a way to store electricity easily.
      Now nuclear energy — there’s potential there. Problems too. But the problems are mostly political. Those can be fought easier than fighting the laws of physics.

    • 0 avatar

      This information may be dated, but when I was working as a mechanical engineer for the local power utility in 2004, the payback period on the wind turbine project we were doing was 25 years.  There were many projects with payback periods of 7 years or less that would have had a far greater positive impact by making our conventional power generation (mostly coal, some hydro) more efficient, but many were put on hold to pay for the wind turbines simply because they had the public perception of being environmentally friendly. In reality, wind turbines require a lot of energy and resources to manufacture and implement; resources that could be used for better things.

  • avatar

    ….and they get rid of a lot of pesky unwanted bird species.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s an old anti-wind meme based on an early windfarm placed smack dab in a migration route.  It’s not a problem if they’re located properly.  Bats do seem to have problems avoiding the blades, hopefully they’ll figure out a solution soon.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s an old anti-wind meme based on an early windfarm placed smack dab in a migration route.

      You’re right that windfarm placement can affect the number of birds killed. But if there are any birds or bats around a windmill, it will kill some. Windmills do kill a lot of birds and bats every day.

      Some think of windmills as environmentally benign. Depending on what you compare them to, they may be. But if you go to a modern windmill site you will see that the site looks pretty industrial. Not like a farm or anything like that.

      People around the world are finding that windmills are not good neighbors.

    • 0 avatar

      People around the world are finding that windmills are not good neighbors.
      Neither are gas or coal turbines.  Personally, if given a choice, I’d take wind every day of the week, especially if we’re talking about power generation at or near residential areas.  No, it’s not perfect, but it’s a good option until solar becomes less of a pipe dream and/or someone gets the bugs out of Mr. Fusion.
      All that said, a smarter electric grid would probably be a better investment.  It might work, too, were it not for the knee-jerk “I don’t want the man telling me when I can run my dishwasher!” attitude.

  • avatar

    There isn’t enough energy produced by windmills to run all the electric automobiles.

  • avatar

    Contrarian:  Tell that to all the companies here in the Northwest who are making money with wind power right now.  I bet people said the same thing about Coal power, or Nuclear power, or even Hydro power.  But the fact remains that wind power farms are springing up all over the place, I must have drove past a thousand windmills in the past month on vacation.
    Bucksnort:  Sarcasm aside – not even close to true anymore.
    tced2: Missing the point.
    The point is that with an EV you can power it in lots of different fashions.  Solar power on your house or on the carport at work.  Electricity from the grid during non-peak hours.  Hydro, Geothermal.  Wind.  Or the older coal, nuclear, natural gas.  And most of those ways can be 100% domestic.  And we might find new ways as well.  Also, you can instantly clean up emissions of thousands of EVs by fixing one power plant…
    Internal combustion engines run off oil.  And are very hard to change that after production.  And emissions only ever get worse – not better – as internal combustion engines wear.  And to change their emissions you have to wait for them all to run out their lifespan and then get replaced with cleaner models.
    I love people who criticize biofuels or electric power by claiming how bad they are to produce – while acting like oil location/production/shipment/refining/consumption is so clean and painless.  Sure – making solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines has an impact.  So does making gasoline and shipping it around the world…
    The bigger picture is moving to a less centralized power infrastructure.  Less dependence on any one source.  More flexibility and capability to improve the system as we learn more or get better with what we have…

    • 0 avatar

      Tell that to all the companies here in the Northwest who are making money with wind power right now.

      As all those wind power companies are now telling Congress, they are making money only because of fat government subsidies. In other words, their profits are from taxpayers.

    • 0 avatar

      So all those taxpayer funded oil company subsidies are A-OK but if wind power gets subsidies its bad?
      All energy companies get subsidies.

    • 0 avatar

      If windmills were truly profitable, they wouldn’t need to be subsidized.  Period.
      I, too, drove past thousands of windmills on my summer vacation across the country.  And I could count on two hands the number that were actually turning.  At one point in Kansas I drove by a stretch of maybe 10 miles of windmills 10-20 deep from the highway, and none of them were turning.
      It’s a romantic idea to send home-generated power to the grid, but it’s a great way to blow up transformers or your neighbor’s equipment.  That’s not a trivial exercise.
      And the biggest technical problem with windmills and solar is how to store the power they produce – it’s not always needed, and that power must be closely managed to prevent tripping circuit protectors.

  • avatar

    wind power is growing faster, all over the globe, in absolute volume, than any other electricity source, except coal in china.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Which tells us nothing useful about whether it’s any good.

    • 0 avatar

      It is, as you say “growing faster, all over the globe” but it is not, and can not ever be a stable supply. If you want to be SURE that your electric ride is there to take you to work in the morning, you can’t rely on the wind to be blowing. Why do you think the auto companies are making mostly hybrids? They know that there isn’t enough juice in the nation’s lines to charge all the cars that we want to have and there won’t be until there is a sustainable supply of electricity to be had AFTER the coal and oil is no longer used/available. Wind won’t do it.

  • avatar

    That’s an old anti-wind meme based on an early windfarm placed smack dab in a migration route.  It’s not a problem if they’re located properly.  Bats do seem to have problems avoiding the blades, hopefully they’ll figure out a solution soon.

    Bats are also suffering barometric trauma when they fly into low pressure pockets around the rotating blades. They are very sensitive to pressure change and these windmills can cause pressure spikes strong enough to kill some bat species instantly.
    There must be a windfarm planned for my area because I see ‘Stop the Windmills’ signs out all over the place. What’s the issue? Noise?

    • 0 avatar

      Noise is one of many problems with wind turbines in residential areas.
      These things have to be “sited”, to make sure they get the maximum wind for the area they are intended. Once the right location is found for max. wind, all of a sudden, anybody living in close proximity to this location is “sold” on the whole process. Part of the selling job is to tell the residents in the area about all the pluses, all the benefits of having a big, noisy windmill in their backyard. Some almost literally are!
      There are some pretty scary examples to be seen, and HEARD @ YouTube. A simple search will connect you to some real horror stories (video) that are the result of bad planning, misinformation, and just plain flat-out lies. The truth and big business don’t always mix well.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Toyota will test a system where plug-in hybrid vehicles double as storage batteries for the homes.”
    I keep reading about this idea, but it never makes any sense. If the car leaves home in the morning, it won’t be there to act as a battery. If it comes home at night, you plug it in so it can charge. If it is used a battery at night, then it won’t be fully charged in the morning, and you won’t be able to get to work:-(.

    • 0 avatar

      Who siad it has to make sense? Just buy the damned car already! :-)

    • 0 avatar

      Let’s say your get home at 6pm and your car charges by midnight.  With a smart-grid enabled home, your dishwasher, dryer or HVAC could be run from your car without drawing from the grid and trickle-charged to keep it topped up.
      This becomes more useful if your home has a small wind or solar power system.  It’s not huge, but if you multiply it by a few hundred thousand households it can make a big difference to the whole grid.  It might not save you money directly, but as part of a smart grid strategy it could belay or obviate  the need to build a new powerplant to deal with peak demand

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      “your dishwasher … could be run from your car without drawing from the grid and trickle-charged to keep it topped up”
      Charged from where?

  • avatar

    Some people feel that Windmills ruin the landscape (oddly), and there is the real danger to birds and bats (blinkers? whistles attached to the blade-tips?).
    But the real problem with wind is cost-effectiveness. They’re very expensive to build for the amount of power they generate, unless they’re situated just right… (we have a half-billion dollar plant sitting on the coastline a few hundred miles north… and it’s providing electricity for just one town) and they’re not exactly maintenance free.
    Yes, they’re a good substitute for “dirty” electricity, but require a lot of subsidy to make them work in our current hydrocarbon based economy… where coal plants can generate electricity at just a tenth of the cost of wind… taking into account the lifespan and expected maintenance requirements of turbines.
    And that’s without taking into account subsidies… which I will ignore because someone is bound to start screaming “BUT WE’RE SUBSIDIZING OIL THROUGH TAX BREAKS AND BY INVADING AFGHANISTAN!!1!!”… which is strange, because the last I saw, Afghanistan has no coal… or oil. And direct subsidy of dirty electricity matches its output in relation to renewable sources.
    Not that this is an ideal situation. An ideal situation is for mankind to build trillions of dollars worth of hydroelectric, nuclear, solar and wind power capacity before the oil bubble bursts and leaves us too poor to do so. But even if we do, don’t expect “renewable” power to ever be as cheap as hydrocarbon.

  • avatar

    I don’t care if the rest of the world wants to power it’s cars with clubbed seals as long as gasoline stays below $3.

  • avatar

    Wind isn’t the answer now, though with advances in the technology it may become more cost effective.
    Right now the best source of clean energy is Nuclear power.  We should be on a building spree for Nuclear power plants, but boneheaded people too easily influenced by exaggerated risks and flip-flop politicians too eager to court votes from the uneducated keep that from becoming a reality.  We should implement a system where you need a high school diploma to vote, a bachelor’s degree gets you two votes, a master’s three, and a doctorate four, then we might actually have some forward thinking progress in this country.
    Nuclear does produce some waste, sure, but we have places to store it, and eventually we will figure out controllable fusion and have limitless clean energy (and plenty of helium).

    • 0 avatar

      NulloModo: That last paragraph about ‘controllable fusion’ is certainly a valid point, and is more in line with the direction we should be headed.

      Now, as far as who should be voting, I don’t agree. In a couple of weeks I will be marking a full three score on this wonderul blue marble, and during my time here I have found that the people who have the least informed opinions/ideas regarding whom they should vote for are the ones who start with a list of their acedemic qualifications. They may have impressed their teachers in college but that has nothing to do with the real world. They just think it does. It’s life-as-it-happens that gives you the smarts required to cut through the BS that politicians pewk out and swear is the truth.
      Now, if only we could come up with some way to make sure that they actually answer the questions they are ASKED instead of the ones they imagine they heard, the everyday citizen would probably get it right in the polling booth.

      Maybe the politicians could be made to supply the “wind” on those days the turbines need it.

  • avatar


    +1 on nuclear power. One of the few instances in which France should be a model.

    -1 on voting. I have a bachelor’s degree from a top-tier private university; I should have more votes than the schmuck who got his BA from Cal State Bakersfield! ;)

  • avatar

    So what do we do about the “honorary doctorates” that schools love to give out to anyone with enough media pull or money?

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