By on July 12, 2011

Electric vehicles present all kinds of challenges to the traditional ways of understanding cars. From design to differentiation, from range to refueling, EVs simply act different than the internal combustion-powered cars we’ve been refining for centuries now. And yet, through consumer incentives and subsidized charging stations, governments seem to be barreling headlong towards the goal of simply replacing our gas cars with electric ones, as if the two were fundamentally interchangeable. Sadly this is not the case, and a study by Project Better Place and PJM Interconnection [PDF] illustrates in stark terms just how costly an unplanned, uncoordinated rush to electric cars can be.

PJM and Better Place open their study with a question that some might find slightly absurd: what would happen if a major metropolitan area suddenly had a million EVs? The question is only absurd from a pure market perspective, as global EV sales volume projections are generally low enough to keep the possibility of a single million-EV metropolis squarely in the realm of science fiction. From a policy perspective, however, the study offers profound insights into issues that the governments who are currently promoting EVs absolutely must consider. Without an understanding of the unintended consequences of a rush to EVs, governments risk spiraling costs, misplaced investments, and market failures.

To understand the potential effects of a million-EV metropolis, PJM and Better place have created a complex computer model which

considered a distribution of 1 million EVs in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Area and modeled the impact of charging the EV batteries in three scenarios: unmanaged charging, consumer-price-incentivized charging, and managed charging via a Central Network Operator (CNO).

With a million EVs in one metropolitan area, a huge percentage of grid energy would be diverted towards transportation that was once powered by gasoline, and these three scenarios represent different approaches to managing the grid impact. The first, or “unmanaged” scenario is essentially the status quo, a market-driven pricing system in which cars are simply powered off of a standard electrical grid using home chargers and the public fast chargers that some cities are already installing (called Battery Quick Chargers or BQCs). The “Time Of Use” (TOU) scenario used a two-tier pricing scenario, modeled on the pilot EV tariff developed by Southern California Edison, which uses advanced home meters to distribute energy for (theoretically) lower grid impacts and electricity prices (as well as public BQCs). The “Central Network Operator” (CNO) scenario models a single EV services provider responsible for all charging and infrastructure, using Better Place’s in-house network models and experiences. In this scenario, the BQCs are replaced by BSSs, or Battery Swap Stations, another unique Better Place offering.

Without going into too much complexity in describing the simulation (check out the PDF for more), it starts with a transportation model which maps EV distribution, trips and charging behavior. That model is then run through each of the three different scenarios, and the results of each is then sent through PJM’s grid market model and assessed for impacts on grid load and energy prices (assuming no fundamental changes in generation and transmission techniques). The results are dramatic, and graphically illustrate the problem with a vehicle-centric approach to EV stimulus.

As the very first chart in this post shows (also shown here in grey), the unmanaged scenario causes huge peaks and valleys in grid load, as commuters follow regular schedules and charge their vehicles at roughly the same times, charging them until full as soon as they are plugged in. The red line in that chart tracks “Locational Marginal Prices” (LMPs), which are at their highest when the grid faces its highest draws. This results in $786.3m in wholesale energy increases per year, a number that the TOU scenario (shown above) actually makes worse by 4%. Where TOU does help is in the annual energy costs aggregated to EV owners (thanks to fixed prices), but it is only shown to help by a mere 3.7%.

If you replace the haphazard system of home-charging and public BQCs with Better Place’s battery swap stations (BSSs) and network management system, the peaks and valleys in the grid draw are dramatically leveled out compared to the unmanaged and TOU scenarios. And though localized marginal prices are higher at times than in the TOU scenario, on aggregate they offer 22% savings compared to the unmanaged scenario. That’s over $35m annually (in one city) that’s not coming out of consumer’s pockets. More importantly, wholesale energy prices enjoy a whopping 45% savings compared to the unmanaged scenario for a staggering $350m in annual savings. Now imagine those results multiplied across every American metropolis with a million vehicles, and the impacts of not committing to a central network operator are impossible to ignore on a national policymaking level.

In essence, only a single central network operator can manage the chaos of individual transportation without restricting mobility or causing regular stress on the grid. I personally tend to favor bottom-up, market driven solutions, and at first glance putting a single operator in charge of managing the distribution of energy for private transportation does not seem to be that. But when you go through the model it becomes clear that this single central switchboard and distribution system is actually necessary for efficient market function, allowing for constant response to localized marginal prices and constant mitigation of naturally clustered usage patterns. In light of this reality, the study’s policy implications are less shocking:

This joint study firmly concludes that the increases in wholesale energy cost due to the additional load of 1 million EVs in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Area can be reduced by hundreds of millions of dollars per year if the charging is managed by a CNO responding to real-time LMPs.  These savings are without considering the value from various ancillary services and of large-scale dispatchable load for increasing the penetration of renewables, economic dispatch efficiency, and heat-rates for environmental considerations.  Existing mechanisms do not necessarily allow CNOs to capture any of this value, which could be used for infrastructure deployment.  Based on these conclusions, we emphasize how critically important both the presence of real-time LMPs and of CNOs are to reducing the impacts to the electric power system.  Therefore, we recommend that incentives be developed for advancing the power system such that PRD incorporates LMPs and for EV incentives to reach beyond the consumer to CNOs so that intelligent charging networks can be quickly constructed.

By simply giving consumers credits to buy EVs, the government is setting up the same consumers to overpay massively for their electricity, grids for overstress and utilities for waste and inefficiency. Rather than encouraging these negative outcomes, perhaps governments should consider investing in Better Place’s holistic network management approach. The upfront costs of a Better Place-style CNO are indeed large, but the alternative is well-over $350m in annual increased wholesale energy costs (in one city alone)… waste without end. Throughout history economists have found so-called “natural monopolies,” in which markets are unable to provide a service as efficiently as a single actor. With the problem of EV grid management, we seem to have found another. And because the battery-swap model also fixes the major micro-level problems with EVs, namely lack of range and battery depreciation costs, Better Place is looking more and more like a no-brainer to me all the time.

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64 Comments on “The Electric Car Jungle: Battery Swap And The “Natural Monopoly” Of Grid Management...”

  • avatar

    Couldn’t the load be evened out through central management of local charging? If your home charging station had a unique identifier and was commanded to charge at a centrally optimized time and rate, wouldn’t that provide the same benefits as claimed for the Better Place fully centralized solution?

  • avatar

    Yet another reason why electric cars are too:

    * expensive
    * impractical
    * range-anxiety-inducing
    * slow…

    etc., etc. Begins to sound like whistling past the graveyard.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, you better hope we figure out those problems before too long, because the dino-juice is starting to run low.

    • 0 avatar

      Too expensive versus what? Riding a bike, walking, horse and buggy? Eventually something will have to replace gasoline.

      I don’t like the idea of central management either but let’s at least give some credit to the studies authors for thinking about the problem.

      • 0 avatar

        Eventually something will have to replace gasoline.

        We’ve been “running out” of everything, according to Malthusian doom and gloom types, for decades. And yet, more reserves are always found.

        The world has plenty of fossil fuels. What’s lacking is the political will to extract them…

      • 0 avatar

        What’s lacking is the political will to extract them

        Oh, yeah. It was a lack of “political will” that kept people out of the Alberta tar sands, or from engaging is hydraulic fracturing.

        No, it’s a lack of money. Those hitherto-expensive and environmentally damaging methods of extraction are now profitable because we’ve picked much of the low-hanging fruit. Political will is easy, when you have money to buy it with.

        This is a case where “the market” fails society because the short-term opportunity is stronger than the long-term consequence: we’re taking the cheap-but-damaging path because, well, it’s cheap.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, if “something has to replace gasoline”, why not hydrogen?
        – No reloading times
        – No range issues
        – Existing infrastructure could be used with modifications

        We can’t afford to put everything on EVs, neglecting other solutions. I simply dislike this EV hysteria.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, if “something has to replace gasoline”, why not hydrogen?

        Hydrogen is, at best, an experimental technology. There’s absolutely no evidence that it can work on a mass scale at a reasonable cost, and no, the infrastructure for it does not exist.

      • 0 avatar

        This has very little to do with the current topic except that the easy, cheap oil extraction is over in many places. I read an article that referenced the most valualble acre in the world. In downtown Kilgore, Texas there is an oil producing acre that has yeilded over the years somthing like $3 billion of oil at current prices.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @herb- Hydrogen requires energy to separate from the oxygen molecules in water. It can not just be collected and refined.
        Hydrogen Fuel Cells may be the “ultimate battery”, given today’s technology, but it still takes more energy to produce hydrogen than it provides to a fuel cell. TANSTAAFL! (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch)

        Michigan power companies are studying how to accomodate the projected increase in electricity demand for EV’s. They are looking at “smart” chargers that allow centralized control to balance load. They already have financially incentivized programs in place for residential electric water heaters.

      • 0 avatar

        Hydrogen is not a fuel. It’s a storage medium. One does not extract hydrogen from the ground, then burn it. One puts energy – wither straight out heat, or electricity – into water, splits it, then holds the hydrogen until needed.

        To the extent hydrogen is a solution, it will be because of its efficiency as a storage medium. And that’s poor. Hydrogen is energy intensive to store, because it must be compressed into a liquid, and that uses huge amounts of energy to pressurize, etc.

  • avatar

    For now, as stated above, there are not enough EVs to even worry about the impact on the grid. There is far too much “the sky will fall/the grid will collapse” rhetoric out there regarding the widespread adoption of EVs.

    If and when we do see EVs utilized in significant numbers, the solution will be to have their chargers be smart-grid-capable. The smart grid technologies are being tested now and should be in widespread use within the next 15-20 years. This technology simply allows the CNO (your local electric utility, or Big Brother, depending upon your leaning) to communicate with various electrical appliances in your house in order to manage peak loads. This will include the larger electrical appliances including water heaters, air conditioners, and EV battery chargers.

    Tin-foil hat wearers will bemoan the intrusion into one’s personal energy use, but the practical benefits are substantial in terms of peak load shaving and off-peak scheduling of electrical use (for the EV charger, for example). During peak load periods (which happen in the morning and late afternoon, daily), your water heater or air conditioner (compressor) may be commanded to be off for a few minutes. And then your neighbor’s water heater, and so on. The impact on most people will be minimal and the cost savings to both the utilities and consumers substantial.

    And if EVs are connected to the grid during the day, they could actually be used as distributed power sources (you would sell some of your battery pack energy back into the grid) to help with peak load shaving. The user would be able to limit the amount of energy drawn out, in order to maintain sufficient reserves for their expected commute home. The battery pack would then be fully recharged during the off-peak, lowest-cost-per-kwh, overnight hours.

    We have the technology to do this today, all we need to do is to implement it.

    • 0 avatar

      Certitude is a wonderful thing. It’s always easy isn’t it? And the tinfoil hat slur, a nice little straw man easy to knock down. There are lots of things that can go wrong with with easy rosy scenario. Your faith in technology is touching but things seldom work as planned, just ask all the falied central planners gone before you. What if you have an emergency and the smart grid hasn’t charged your EV yet and you really need it? What if the smart grid decides that you don’t need to use any electricity for a long period, no heat, no ac, no washer, no nothing? If short brownouts are ok, then why not long ones, just think of all that energy you can save.

      Plus there’s another consideration, AEP announced the closure of 5 coal fired plants today and billions spent to upgrade other plants. Rates are going to go up a lot, why would anyone want to pay more for worse service? You can do everything you can to lower your carbon footprint. Getting rid of your computer would be a great start.

    • 0 avatar

      “Tin-foil hat wearers will bemoan the intrusion into one’s personal energy use, but the practical benefits are substantial in terms of peak load shaving and off-peak scheduling of electrical use (for the EV charger, for example). During peak load periods (which happen in the morning and late afternoon, daily), your water heater or air conditioner (compressor) may be commanded to be off for a few minutes.”

      If accompanied by the utility allowing net metering for selling back to the grid, the utility customer won’t have to be at a disadvantage even in this situation. Domestic solar in particular tends to reach maximum generation at just the times of peak demand. So if you don’t like seeing your rates peak during a sunny, hot afternoon, you’d have the option of adding a few more solar panels (with prices approaching $1/watt) to offset your use.

    • 0 avatar

      Its just another anti BEV Luddite report.. just a simple change to time-of-day rates will mean owners will keep track of the cost and program their chargers appropriately (or let the utility do it automatically for them).. and that means the car does not start to charge at exactly 5pm when you get home. You want to see 1 million BEVs in DC, wait for gas to get up to $5 a gallon, if ever.

  • avatar

    there are not enough EVs to even worry about the impact on the grid.

    Nor will there ever be. This is much ado about nothing.

    The best thing that the government could do would be to convert substantial numbers of government fleet vehicles to EVs. City and county governments are ideally set up for it (centralized yards, 9-5 usage, relatively short travel distances, no need for speed), and unlike most of us, wouldn’t need to worry about range and refueling nearly as much as would the average consumer. Such a plan would be a easily managed, cost effective way to reduce carbon emissions, while directing EVs to their best use instead of expecting the rest of us to make something impossible work for us.

    • 0 avatar
      John Fritz

      This is one of the (if not the) most intelligent observation I’ve read regarding EV’s. I don’t see a downside other than I am going to have to pay for them. But I’ll have to pay for any vehicle regardless of propulsion type so that’s irrelevant.

      Hey, Mommy Government; You like them so much? You use them. Nothing else to add.

      This will never happen, by the way. Other than small fleets here and there to prove a point, there’s no way government entities will put up with the inconvenience of an EV. They’ll site unsuitability for mission, lack of charging stations, the excuses will be endless.

      EV’s always were and always will be intended for the unwashed masses. Not for our rulers and their minions.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t see a downside other than I am going to have to pay for them

        The downside is that it isn’t a magic cure-all for the environmental problem. Even if government fleets used EVs at every reasonable opportunity, the total number of EVs in use would still be a drop in the bucket. And even if some corporate fleets were added to the total, it still wouldn’t amount to much.

        Then again, that drop would be bigger than what we’d have without it. Electric vehicles have been around for a century, and the technology has evolved little during that 100 years. So far, there have be no stupendous advances with EVs that could be considered to be a game changer.

        Any EV concept that is heavily dependent upon batteries for power storage is going to fail in the mass market. Some other technology that allows for quick charging and substantial storage is needed. Electric motors themselves are an optimal technology; it’s the batteries that are the Achilles heel, and a swap system is far too costly and complicated to make any sense for widespread usage.

      • 0 avatar

        It depends on which mass market you are aiming at. I think EV as they are sold now are brilliant for markets like Aruba and with a 200 miles battery markets like Taiwan and South Korea would go almost completely EV. Then there is the question of how cars will transmit the energy between the power-source and the wheels and in my opinion it is very likely that in ten years time all new designs will be Volt style. And if most car can drive pure electric than don’t be surprised if it will be illegal to drive a car under the power of an ICE in an urban area.

        In short: Electric vehicles are part of the future. If American companies don’t learn to build them now then in 10 years time they will be shut out of some if not all major foreign markets.

      • 0 avatar

        It depends on which mass market you are aiming at. I think EV as they are sold now are brilliant for markets like Aruba

        Aruba is a tiny island with 100,000 people. It has no mass market.

        In short: Electric vehicles are part of the future. If American companies don’t learn to build them now then in 10 years time they will be shut out of some if not all major foreign markets.

        Ten years ago, they were saying the same thing. And ten years before that, they were saying the same thing. And ten years before that, they were saying the same thing…Maybe eventually, “they” will be right, but when?

        Until someone invents a replacement for the battery, these are a non-starter. There is no such thing as a range-anxiety-free EV without some sort of quick-charge technology to accompany it. The motors are fine, it’s the power storage that’s the problem.

      • 0 avatar

        But the Korean/Taiwan/Irish/Puerto Rico/etc. market is a (small) mass market.

        But there is a big difference between now and ten years ago. In the past no major automaker said it. Now some do

        There is also no range problems in those small places because you can’t go further than a full battery charge. In very narrow countries like Chile and Australia you could also use a car-train if you don’t want to go battery swapping or electrifying the highway

      • 0 avatar

        But the Korean/Taiwan/Irish/Puerto Rico/etc. market is a (small) mass market.

        Have you been to Ireland? Outside of a few larger towns, it’s a fairly rural country. Range would be a problem. It may seem to small to you from a map, but a bit of a trip out of town would quickly drain the battery on a Leaf.

        The EV supporters are in utter denial of the range problem. Yet they offer no new paradigm that will get us past the range problem; they keep claiming that there will be some psychic shift that never happens, and for which there is no reason to happen.

        In the past no major automaker said it. Now some do

        It’s PR. They haven’t solved the battery problem, either. In 100 years, nobody has fixed this without finding a way to add gasoline to the mix.

      • 0 avatar

        It is called better batteries and they get better every decade

      • 0 avatar

        It is called better batteries and they get better every decade

        I assume that you have a cell phone.

        Can you charge it in five minutes? No, you can’t — why not?

        Once you do charge it, can you talk on it for several days before recharging it again? No, you can’t — why not?

        And if you know that you can’t fully charge a lightweight phone in a few minutes, so that you can use for it several days thereafter, then why would you expect a car that needs to pull 3,000-4,000 lbs worth of weight while pushing through 80-100 mph headwinds to do any better?

    • 0 avatar

      Pch, a very good idea.

  • avatar

    Considering that 1 million EVs in a single place isn’t going to happen anytime soon, there is still a lot of time to fix any problems that come from this. But, there are other things to consider.

    In Texas, it gets hot. Air conditioners run a lot during the summer. It is most of the electric bill. When people use their air conditioners more often because it is getting hotter, they turn on at roughly the same time. Quite similar to the plugging in of cars at the same time. There are already more than a million AC units in major metro areas in Texas.

    Now, I understand that EVs are going to be more load, but there will be time to build out the infrastructure to make this work and the impact is greatly overstated in this article. Considering that the US sells between 12 and 17 million cars a year, I don’t see 1 million EVs in any metro area any time soon.

  • avatar

    The CNO solution they tout is basically unAmerican. Any model that centralizes real-time driver information and provides fuel based upon predictive algorithms flies in the face of the independent, free-ranging driver. It might work in China, or maybe even Europe, but not in the US.

    And people had Fourth Amendment concerns about OBD-III? This trumps that.

    From an operational standpoint, I still think that battery changing stations are a non-starter, even if you only pay for consumption. I don’t want a range surprise every time I get a new pack. In contrast, I know very precisely the range I’ll get from every full tank of gasoline.

    The only real model that can be sold to the American public is the unmanaged scenario. And – just as with gasoline – consumers will be willing to pay for it if they really want an EV. Because, frankly, consumers don’t give a hoot about aggregate savings. They just want control.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with you about the privacy question, but if the majority of Americans don’t get riled up about warrantless GPS tracking and warrantless access to automated tolling info, I doubt that they’ll get riled up about the CNO having so much info about their driving habits. The default mindset seems to be “If you’re not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t care”. The issue with any of these problems could be addressed by requiring warrants to access the data, but govt won’t give up this resource unless/until a majority demands it.

  • avatar

    Throughout history the way, way greater occurrence has been monopolies when there didn’t need to be and shouldn’t have been. The distortions they cause and the abuse of power that almost always occurs has been the main problem of world history (As an extreme example, think of the monopoly the state/kingdom had over the use of violence over the populace with no real checks on that power.)

    Electric power meters in each vehicle should be enough to ensure 90% of recharging takes place at night during otherwise low grid use. All the electric utilities or regulators need to do is make sure the daytime electricity price is high enough to severely discourage it. Emergency charging can still take place, but at a high price which people expect to pay during emergencies anyways.

  • avatar

    Follow the Money, the Baby Boomers and the Music.

    Cars, Electric = 2 cents a mile, minimum maintenance, Torque leaves gas guzzlers in the dust,
    . . . . . . over 80 Million Baby Boomers retire (no commute, no range anxiety)

    Cars, Gas = 11 cents a mile, maintenance cost, embarrassed by “little old ladies from Pasadena,”
    . . . . . . junk yards filling, with Baby Boomers old commuter cars. (Car prices falling, like house prices)

    $40,000 = Volt,
    $35,000 = Leaf,
    $27.500 = German/French Mai. (Electric car prices are falling!)

    China/India churning out LOW COST electric cars.
    . . . A Million cars . . . try 80 – 100 million.

    That’s why this study is important now!

  • avatar

    This is one of the dumbest and most useless studies. Since it would take years if not decades till we see a million EV anywhere, the grid will adapt.

    I could have made study in 1970 to simulate how the grid will collapse when a city has a million 55″ Plasma TVs and microwaves plugged in at once in addition to what they normally used back then in 1970.

  • avatar

    Doesn’t it seem just a little odd that people believe they need to pilot inefficient 2000-5000lb objects to transport their bodies vast distances just to get food, attend their jobs and entertain themselves?

    Back in 1990, I warned a bunch of managers at a provincial hydro utility about exactly this problem of charging ev’s. Since I was just a bilge rat, in an irrelevant field, and 30 years early, I was properly regarded as a benign nut case.

    • 0 avatar

      “Doesn’t it seem just a little odd that people believe they need to pilot inefficient 2000-5000lb objects to transport their bodies vast distances just to get food, attend their jobs and entertain themselves?”

      Yes, and we Americans intend to keep it that way. That ability is an unassailable hallmark of American independence.

      • 0 avatar

        “That ability is an unassailable hallmark of American independence.”

        Not to mention the confusion of waste with wealth that is undermining the independence of a great country. Just like selling out the independence of the US to China to buy shiploads of cheap consumer garbage. At some point being stubborn goes from being noble to being dumb.

  • avatar

    Why is our electric system still maintained as massive grids?

    It seems like you’d hit all sorts of objectives espoused by the government and politicians — except the ability to have a kill switch for large areas — by cutting the large grid up into smaller, regional networks. Maintaining a specific voltage drop from Maine to Florida to the Mississippi River has to be pretty tough to do.

    If you had those regional grids, some of these things that seem insane in certain geographies could be used where they make sense — and, Michigan/Wisconsin area, solar or wind power is insane; in Arizona/New Mexico, solar is perhaps more viable — but then the grids covering Arizona and New Mexico could be adapted better to handle the wide swings of solar energy. You could localize the energy production and then people could make choices — maybe coal is the only thing that’s going to work in winter in Marquette.

    Then, of course, effort could be focused on having viable storage and containment for usable 120V AC electricity. Maybe when there’s a surfeit in Indiana and a shortage in Tennessee, everybody plugs in their hybrids and hydrogen cars in Indiana, then drives over to Tennessee, then sells the electricity to the Tennessee users at a nice premium. Somebody would call it windfall gouging, of course.

    Note: Back when Detroit Edison went TU for a week, there were three major grids — Texas, east US, and west US. The game was negotiating pushing voltage across the eastern US without overloading anything in the middle to get power back to the Lake Erie area. It was an elaborate dance of an over-complicated, error-prone system. Wouldn’t you prefer the option to have a fully-enclosed neighborhood low-grade no-meltdown-risk nuke buried under your subdivision and providing clean power to your little grid for the next 100 years? Charge your cars off that.

    • 0 avatar

      Our power system is organized into large interconnections for one simple reason: reliability. In the power industry reliability is king. There are still three interconnections East, West and Texas.

      The larger the interconnection (“grid” if you must), the more reliable the system is. A “larger” system has more generation on line at any given time. When a generator trips off line, the system can better handle the loss of power.

      Here is analogy that is close enough for our purposes:

      Picture this: you have a two man row boat that must be rowed an exact speed or it will sink, and one man becomes disabled, unable to row. The remaining able bodied man might not be able to row the boat at the correct speed any longer and the boat will sink.

      Compare this to a Greek Trireme with 170 rowers that will likewise sink if it doesn’t maintain the correct speed. If one man out of 170 becomes disabled it is much more likely to be able to maintain the proper speed and stay afloat.

      Trust me, you don’t want your power going out every time a generator trips off line. There is no conspiracy here. We used to have regional (city based) grids. Going back to these would be stepping backwards in time 100 years.

      The rest of your post is nonsensical and or complete garbage, so I won’t address it. Voltage isn’t “pushed”. I’m not sure where you got your “facts”, but I woudn’t advise you share them with anyone else.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nearly 20 years ago, when I lived in the DC suburb of Montgomery County, Maryland, I was put on time of use electric metering. I paid one of three different rates, depending upon time of use and day of use. There were substantial differences between the rates. The cheapest period was something like 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. weekdays (and all day weekends); and the most expensive period was something like 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. weekdays. This was because I lived in a big house that had 2 heatpumps and 2 additional a/c systems, plus electric domestic hot water, electric stove/oven and electric dryer. I promptly put a timer on my hot water heater, so that it would not run during peak period; and we agreed not to dry clothes during that period. All of the a/c systems and heat pumps were put on clock thermostats that minimized useage during peak hours (by setting the temperature higher in the summer and lower in the winter during those periods).

    In the end, the net effect on my electric bill was very small. But the pricing scheme had the effect of reducing my peak demand, which increased the grid’s efficiency . . . that was the point.

    I don’t understand why a similar variable pricing system could not have the same effects regarding EV use, albeit on a more granular level (i.e. with more than 3 rate periods per 24-hour day). The advantage of pricing over central control is that the person who absolutely must re-charge his car during peak period has the ability to do so, so long as he/she pays the price.

    As some of the other commenters noted the “smart grid” technology now being developed is simply a fancy name for a more sophisticated, centralized load management system than the current “kilowatchers” now in place in, e.g. some parts of metro DC where, for an inadequate compensation, homeowners give the power company the ability to shed load during peak periods by shutting off electric hot water heaters and a/c compressors for up to 20 minutes per hour. This is accomplished with a radio signal. The idea that the user “won’t notice” this is absolute rubbish, of course. Your a/c system is sized to adequately cool your house when it is running continuously on what is expected to be the hottest day of the year. Those are precisely the days when the utility experiences peak demand and wants to shed load. So, if it has the ability to shut down your a/c compressor for 20 minutes of every hour, that’s reducing your system’s cooling capacity by 1/3. On the hottest days of the year, you are certainly going to notice that.

    Smart grid is the same concept, ramped up to a more granular level in terms of the number of appliances controlled, etc.

    Clearly, the growth of EVs (if it happens) will require growth in electric generating and distribution capacity, as well as load management capabilities. But, if that growth is slow enough, then the system will grow with it.

    The uanswered question, of course, is whether it makes environmental sense to move the source of pollution (and CO2 production, if you’re concerned about that) from the tailpipe of each vehicle to the smokestack of the coal burning powerplant (which is what powers metro DC).

  • avatar

    To say that you get a 10% reduction in peak power load from moving from flat rate to TOU pricing is ridiculously out of sync with the experience of utilities with Commercial and Industrial customers shifting the TOU. The smells of Better Place trying to argue for their central model, which is at odds with what most utilities are planning for and has little synergies with other home power initiatives that also rely on smart meters and eventually a smart grid without central control, but with incentives.

    • 0 avatar

      It looks to me like they deliberately sabotaged their TOU model to advocate for their idiotic battery swap stations.

      I’m not sure why putting better place in charge of demand management is a better idea than letting the utility do it either.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not sure why putting better place in charge of demand management is a better idea than letting the utility do it either.

        As far as I’m concerned, that’s where the “micro” issues come in… namely BP’s unique cure for the ills of “range anxiety” and battery depreciation (also known as those “idiotic” battery swap stations). That said, I’d be curious to hear a more detailed critique along the lines of 57SC’s… but I think it’s impossible to appreciate BP’s strategy without a long-term perspective on what it’s alternatives realistically are.

    • 0 avatar

      Edward – what would you like to know? I’ll take a guess below:

      In general TOU contracts start being used the higher up the volume and peak power demand you go. When a company moves from a general service rate (demand charge that is peak kW + usage charge that is kWh + customer charge that is a flat fee)to a Time-of-use (because they demand more peak kW and are forced to TOU from the utility, not because they want to) (TOU have the same components, except that the usage charge is a different price /kWh in summer and winter, and low, mid and peak time periods based on the standard load curve of their industry). The whole reason that utilities move bigger users up to TOU from flat rate plans is to incent them to manage their power use through charging different rates by time of day and season.

      You will find many analyses of retail and commercial tests or comparisons of use pricing schemes to alter behavior on the web. big PUCs do studies like California, smart grid meter makers do like Siemens and lots of govt and academics do too. I would expect those to range from 15-50% reduction in peak usage. Remember, peak is about all that counts since generation is sized for peak usage. You’ll see lots of double talk from utilities trying to avoid getting legislated to put in smart grids but who weren’t planning to add capacity anyway (much like other areas of the economy, the legislative pressure to put smart meters in is on the utilities, but it really avoids capex for power generation companies and then avoids future revenues for them). So the utilities are motivated to not show big impacts from dynamic pricing like TOU. you’ll also see lots of academics geeked up about fully dynamic pricing and central control of air conditioning based rebates, but that’s small potatoes compared to the core impact of TOU once the user/payer has had time to see the cost and make the changes.

  • avatar

    I am all for trying to figure out a way to get us off of the fossil fuel treadmill, but most of what I see is belief that we can make the quantum jump from gasoline to BEVs in an instant. There is an enormous inertia of ICE engines in the US exceeding 200 Million vehicles. How do we make that transition? BEVs will not be a one for one replacement for ICE vehicles for many years if ever. Shouldn’t we take some of the R&D money we’re spending on BEV technology and try to find a liquid fuel alternative that will run our current technology with few or no modifications? Corn based ethanol isn’t the answer but maybe something else is until that time that BEVs can replace our current vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      I am always amazed at the lack of imagination people have. All they can see is the present and the past, very few can see a little bit into the future, and almost none can see very far.

      We are speaking on decadal time frames. Battery technology has never served to deliver such massive amounts of power. The energy density of electricity storage will never beat the energy density of gasoline, but hydrogen is perhaps the worst idea ever. That is the most basic physics. The waste inherent in separating hydrogen from water makes hydrogen unsuitable as a storage medium, but that begs the question.

      How are we going to generate all this power in the first place? Then there are the inefficiencies of power transmission over great distances. Electric vehicles please anti-science zealots (environmentalists) since they have no tailpipe emissions, but that power has to come from somewhere.

      What we need is a small efficient power generating plant for vehicles. (I don’t know what that will look like, but current technology wastes more than half the energy in gasoline in waste heat alone) We may plug our cars in at night and at work – anywhere we park – to feed the grid. Until and unless such a power source is developed, power generation will remain a stopgap measure. Twenty years from now all this talk of CAFE and batteries, and especially hydrogen, will look like a hilarious joke. We will remember how nobody could get to work in their EVs because the grid was maxed out every night during the ‘teens.

      • 0 avatar

        Economies of scale will prevent vehicles from having more efficient engines than power plants. Think about it. Car engines must be very low maintenance, average Joe doesn’t open his hood. This means they must be low performance machines or they will constantly break down. Power plants are not low performance machines, they are very high performance machines with a the requisite large maintenance crew to keep them running. Compare an F1 engine to the engine in a Toyota Corolla. One is extremely powerful and highly efficient, the other runs for 200,000 miles.

        Your statement about the grid being maxed out at night, in the future, is not likely. If I had to hazard a rough guess I would say on average a full 2/3 to 3/4 of our generation capacity is off line at night. That is a HUGE number of electric vehicles. Maybe I’ll run some numbers and post back. The adoption rate of electric cars will be slow enough that utilities can keep up. See my obscenely long post below for more reasons why it won’t be an issue.

      • 0 avatar

        In the 50s the Soviet Union made Thorium reactors and put them in buoys and lighthouses that provided electricity for years with no maintenance. It is inconceivable to me that, if the current hysteria against nuclear power were to subside that there could not be a superior technology developed. I noticed in today’s news two items. One, there are going to be brownouts in the middle and east of the country due to air conditioning use in the current heat wave. Two, I noted that Mayor Bloomberg of NYC contributed 50 million dollars to a group whose goal is to stop electric power generation from coal, which is currently our major energy source for electric generation. I can not be sanguine about current trends and technologies resulting in not having enough power to recharge millions of inefficient car batteries.

        The answers to our problems are technological. We are currently in thrall to a political movement that threatens to cause shortages in electric power generation. If new technologies are retarded by political action, I fear that electric automobiles will not be successful now, any more than they failed to provide mass transportation in the last century.

        Electric automobiles are an older technology than gasoline or diesel. We need something new. While projecting current technologies as the answer to our future transportation needs is all fine and well, it is entirely too pessimistic for this optimistic, ever more wealthy society, it seems to me that, rather than societal poverty, our tremendous wealth will continue to increase, once our modern Luddite political movement towards energy poverty will be circumvented. If America does not step forward into the future, China will surely continue development of new technological answers to our current problems.

      • 0 avatar

        Just because a technology has been around for a while doesn’t make it obsolete or mature. Electric motors are highly efficient, the good ones can push past 90%. High density energy storage is a very young technology.

        We already have a highly efficient transmission and distribution system in place – the power system. We run nearly everything else on electricity, we’re good at making it, distributing it and consuming it. It is the perfectly logical solution. We just aren’t very good at storing it.

        You’re talking about a pie in the sky solution. We might as well discuss flying cars. Maybe we’ll have home reactors in 200 years.

        Regarding the push to shut down coal fired power plants – you are absolutely correct. It is a real phenomenon. Coal is a great, inexpensive, highly developed technology. It is burned very cleanly. However it is very dirty – I wouldn’t want to work at a coal plant. We need base load nuclear in this country, but I don’t think we have the political will.

      • 0 avatar

        A pie in the sky solution? If I had told you 15 or 20 years ago that grown men and women would walk the streets while concentrating on a little rectangular box that was a telephone and a computer, also used to watch TV and movies, you would have said the same. Not such a jump in technology, we are talking about a change of paradigm. People have to change. Have you seen photos of the EN-V? If you had told me ten years ago that a massive motor company like GM would make a two wheeled vehicle for use on public roads, I would have thought you were nuts.

        Like I said at top, predicting the future is very hard. We humans are bound into our thinking, plus we make that tendency worse by allowing political processes make technological decisions. That is why we are looking to a technology that is older than the current one. People who hold out a hope that electricity can be stored in high enough density if only we could spend enough money are wrong. I have a degree in physics, and that dog ain’t gonna fight. Electrons themselves hold too little energy. We need a source of energy, not storage for coal generated power.

        No, the huge corporations and the governments will do their all too human dance, with immense amounts of money driving the game to their preferred goals, but some tinkerer in a lab or a garage somewhere will find a little thing about – something – that will begin to turn the paradigm. Of course we will not have thorium reactors in our cars. That is very old technology. But there is an immense amount of power holding atoms together. It is only a matter of time before someone discovers a better way to extract it. The brain drain, with all the big money hiring the best engineers for battery (and climate) research will make it take a bit longer, but I am an optimist. A resolution will be found, and none of us here know what it will be. I have some ideas, but none of them involve high density electric storage. That is a dead end. Twenty years from now, people will laugh at what a mistake that was. It is an interim solution for restricted applications at best.

    • 0 avatar

      Electric vehicles are a practical solution for a least the next 50-100 years. Just as gasoline replaced steam, electricity shall replace gasoline in vehicles.

      I too hope we develop some reality shattering energy source sometime in the future. The paradigm shift you are talking about is still a pie in the sky solution. It also seems we are arguing two sides of the same coin.

      Imagine your paradigm shift providing the power for my electric motored vehicles. Pretty good combo, eh?

      We can toss degrees back and forth at each other all day; I have a degree in Mathematics.

      I don’t know the figures off hand, so I’ll rely on your expertise for the following. What is the theoretical maximum energy density from electrons? Now how close do our current battery technologies come to that theoretical limit? I found a figure of 9 MJ/kg for Lithium-Air batteries. Surely we have room for improvement. Do you not think we can make a practical electric vehicle? It doesn’t have to be revolutionary, just enough to move us away from gasoline and the resultant inefficient distributed energy production (a highly inefficient engine in each car).

      I never meant to imply utility scale energy storage is currently feasible. I don’t know that it will ever be. The amount of energy involved is staggering and I bet your theoretical limits would indeed be a problem.

      • 0 avatar

        Without getting into a number soup about energy density, it is better to compare processes. The process we need here is energy generation. Chemical process, i.e. gasoline, produces energy from the chemical reaction with oxygen, the most reactive element of all. Most importantly, the oxygen need not be carried aboard the vehicle, which is what gives power generated from oxidation its huge advantage. All of the power we currently produce is generated by three sources – oxidation, nuclear fission, and solar capture (which includes wind and hydro). Storage of power, no matter how it is done, and no matter how efficiently, involves a second process, adding an entire other level of inefficiency and waste. What we need is a primary power source aboard the vehicle. If our source produces electric potential, by all means the best way to utilize it is by electric motors, which are, as you mention, a fully mature technology with minimal efficiency losses. IC engines waste fully half their energy to waste heat, so that is not a high bar to clear.

        IMO if it were not for AGW fanaticism we would be exploring more efficient use of hydrocarbon IC engines, but government has stacked the deck against that. If we are to have CAFE standards that give EVs a pass on power generation, which we are (EPA rates the Volt at 99mpg, when the reality is from 38 to 55mpg depending on region) so there is no reason for automakers to invest billions on developing gasoline engines further. Still, at current state of the art, IC engined vehicles are currently available that outperform the Volt. Government demands electric vehicles with stored power, and industry responds. They handed half a billion to Tesla alone! Why swim upstream?

        My point is that we have lost our way. Instead of seeking new ways to live on the planet in a sustainable way, we are in thrall to interests that like the status quo too much to allow the paradigm to change. The paradigm of the new millenium is digital, distributed, and autonomous, while government and corporations are on top of the old paradigm, which is analog, centralized, and under central control. NONE of our major corporations are exploring technologies based on the last fifty years of nuclear research and understanding. (If they are they are keeping it a secret) Our “current” nuclear plant technology was diagrammed by Oppenheimer and his guys, with some minor help from materials technologies developed in the 1960s. Huge central plants, analogue distribution, and now some newly developed digital means of enhanced control. There has been an entirely new nuclear physics developed since then, but there are no funds to technologize it. Science moves on rapidly, but technology moves more slowly, which is why we reached back instead of forward when we embraced EVs.

        I didn’t mean to rant on like this, and didn’t want to get political, but the fact is that the new technologies are being created in little labs here and there, and are having a hell of a time getting funding. I know this from personal involvement. But there are some promising ideas, like using magnesium for fuel and a nanotech design that makes batteries refillable with a (more or less) fluid, which at least solves the range problem with EVs. The future is bright, but the efforts of government to make any change out of their preferred direction is frustrating. We will get there though. I am an optimist.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Battery swap stations are NEVER going to make it. A little logic and technical understanding should make this obvious.
    Consider the Chevy Volt. It’s battery, the current state of the art, is essentially a $10,000 “fuel tank” that holds about 1 gallon of gas (at least in equivalent energy.) The Leaf’s battery at twice the capacity is certainly at least as expensive if not double the price.
    Battery prices will come down, no doubt, but contemplate how many of these a battery swap station can afford to have on hand waiting for a Volt or Leaf to come along at $thousands each. Now multiply that by the swap stations necessary to support demand. It simply will not happen, even if we envision far fewer swap stations than the number of gas stations today, it would still be an immense investment just to start.

    Simple financial considerations make swap stations a non-starter, even if common battery designs were mandated and EV populations explode. In addition, the labor time to make a swap while maintaing the sophisticated and robust environmental control and protection necessary for Li-ion batteries is unlikely to be overcome.

    EV batteries are not like flash light batteries. Replacing them is now and is likely to continue to be a major service operation.

    Hydrogen fuel cells are the most promising onboard energy sources for EV’s. It should be understood that H2 is simply another form of battery, since it requires energy to produce the hydrogen.
    Fuel cells are still too expensive, but they will come down in cost with continued development. Still, H2 Fueling stations at about $1,000,000 each are the biggest roadblock. GM estimated that enough stations to support release of hydrogen fueled vehicles will take a national infrastructure investment in the $billions.

    • 0 avatar

      How many battery-swap cars could exist for every battery available at a swap station? I’d guess 10 cars per “spare” battery might do. So each such ev would require purchase of 1.1 batteries. That’s not a show stopper.

      Then, factor in that, who knows, half the ev’s would be home recharged instead of swapping batteries, and the “fleet” of spare batteries would only be 1 per 20 ev’s.

      Hydrogen requires converting energy through different forms several times, with losses each time. It’s very difficult to contain and rapidly leaks away. Currently, using hydrogen means running coal-fired power plants to make the energy needed to create the hydrogen. How do you resolve insurance issues with underground garages full of these thing? Hopefully the public will balk at the car industry’s push to have the public pay for those costly refill stations.

      • 0 avatar

        Hydrogen EV need big batteries for regenerative braking reasons. which leads to why not make it a plug-in. But if you make it a plug-in than most miles won’t be driven on H2 but on main electricity which makes (H2)gas stations uneconomical

  • avatar

    I don’t buy it. If it will cost consumers that much (and I don’t doubt that it may), then there will be forces to push it to a more cost-effective condition. For example, apps that restrict a car charging to only when rates are lowest (e.g., middle of the night). That one piece of technology fixes most of the oh-so-dire problem in one fell blow, so no, I don’t think the sky is falling.

    But on that note, we already see quite a bit of fluxuation in electric demand. Industry, A/C, etc, cause demand to increase during the day, and then it drops off significantly at night. Some bldg designs take advantage of this by refrigerating a large mass at night (when power is cheaper) and then use that to cool during the day (when power is more expensive).

    So, to extend the concept, why are we only worried about this with EVs? What makes us think that our grid is okay as-is without EVs? In other words, why aren’t we doing more to optimize bldgs, manufacturing, etc, so that we can have a flat power demand at all times. Just think of the reduced costs needed for a system that doesn’t suffer peak capacity excesses, one that doesn’t require plants to turn on and off anywhere near as often.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I’ve been wondering the same thing. Every time the EV discussion comes up, somebody comes along and says “but our aging, decrepit power grid won’t be able to handle the additional load”. Um, isn’t that something we should be working on? I hardly think that the demand for electricity will go down in the future.

      • 0 avatar

        Our power system isn’t on the verge of utter melt down as some would have you believe. Yes, some parts of it are “old”, but that is not necessarily a problem. The system as maintained very well.

        The western interconnection is the largest machine in the world. The eastern interconnection is probably the most powerful at somewhere around 500,000 megawatts at peak load. That is about 67,0511,045 horsepower.

        These machines run 24 hours a day and take a huge amount of maintenance and upkeep. Stop and think about how often your power goes out. Not very often is it? Compare that to the reliability of your car, or blender for that matter.

  • avatar

    I work as a Generation Dispatcher for a utility company. My job is to maintain reliability by matching generation to load on a real time basis. In other words, I keep your power on. A large part of my job is same day and next hour load forecasting.

    Currently the industry has several tools used to reduce demand (load). These include time of use plans, commercial/industrial demand based pricing, retail demand based pricing, prescheduled demand reduction contracts, on demand load shedding contracts, and retail load reduction schemes (A/C load reduction, water heaters etc).

    For those unfamiliar with the terms, time of use plans charge more per kilowatt hour during prescribed times of the day. Demand based pricing plans charge higher prices for higher rates of power consumption. A customer that draws .5 kilowatts would pay less per kilowatt hour than a load that draws 50 kilowatts.

    With regards to load reduction there are two broad types I am aware of:
    1) Arrangements with specific, large, customers. A mining customer would be a good example.

    2) Contractual arrangements with a large number of small customers. These are the plans that allow utilities to turn off your A/C or water heater for X number of minutes per hour.

    Both of these types can either be organized completely by the host utility company or by a third party company who sells load reduction in megawatt increments. See the company EnerNOC for an example.

    My personal hunch is that electric car load will be handled in a variety of ways. Utilities will do their own studies and determine which methods work best for their customers. Different strokes for different folks if you will.

    I expect we will see demand based pricing for charging vehicles. If you want to charge it fast you will pay more per kilowatt hour than if you charge it slow. This will encourage customers to charge their vehicles over the longest possible period. At night, customers who could feasibly charge their vehicle in one hour will program their charger to charge over the largest span of time practical to reduce their demand and thus their price per kilowatt hour. The same thing will occur during the day. Day or night I expect these prices will be significantly less expensive than fuel costs due to the economies of scale involved in power generation.

    My hunch is that by the time we see enough electric vehicles to seriously affect utility load patterns battery technology will have progressed far enough to not require mid-day charging. Even if this is not the case, time of use billing rates and demand based billing rates will limit the amount of charging that takes place.

    Once the electric car population becomes large, we will see pricing plans that include demand reduction (charge rate reduction) and load shedding (the cessation of charging in emergencies). It will take a very large number of electrical vehicles to make these economically worthwhile to implement.

    These demand reduction plans will be utility based and offered contractually by third parties. It depends on what the host utility believes is economically feasible. The existence of a third party will likely be invisible to the retail customer.

    These plans will not be incredibly complex nor will they be based on customers’ driving habits, locations or other needlessly complex algorithms. If the plan is operated by the host utility then they will have real time metering of charging operations. Thus they will know how much is available for reduction.

    If it is a contract with a third party, the contract will be purchased in megawatt increments with the onus on the third party to document that the contract was satisfied when called upon.

    Realistically your average utility company does not want to study your driving habits. They will study your charging habits and do study your overall energy consumption habits at a macro level. I believe the big-brother fears are unfounded.

    The reality is that most charging will take place at night. It will be less expensive than day time charging for the customer, probably by an order of magnitude. This is perfectly compatible with current infrastructure present. The night time load is much lower than the day time load in all areas I am familiar with. There is plenty of generation, transmission and distribution capacity available for use. This base load generation is much less expensive than the peaking plants that are used mid day. The cost of day time charging will be compounded by the unwillingness of most employers to provide car charging for their employees; the net result is that there will be little on peak charging. I do not believe existing peaks will increase in magnitude much. However minimum load will rise. The result will be a much less pronounced load cycle. This is good for power costs.

    At some point I expect batteries to progress to a point where they can be quickly charged, say in less than 10 minutes. Charging will still take place mostly at home, at night. This will be a result of the higher price per kWh charged by charging stations, which is a direct result of the higher prices the stations will pay for electricity due to their high charge rates. Long term, gas stations will also be charging stations to provide long distance travel capability.

    I do not believe we will see a situation where a third party entity actually controls the load from electric vehicles. There are too many reliability and regulatory (legal) issues that could stem from this. Utilities absolutely do not want a third party in control of load shedding on a real time basis. I personally believe that the “Central Network Operator” concept is an attempt to justify a solution to a problem that does not and will not exist. The utility industry handles the exact same load balancing task on a daily basis without issue. Our load patterns are constantly evolving. Electric car charging is no different than any other new type of load that the industry has adapted to. It does not matter whether a megawatt of load comes from a television, a radio, an air conditioner, a car or a particle accelerator. The industry will adapt. It simply is not a problem.

    I must say that these are my own opinions and having nothing to do with my employer.

  • avatar

    Piste -Great post!

    I would add that interruption of EV charging by utilities could become the norm, instead of just for emergencies. My car could communicate when I need the charge completed by, the kWh needed, an the max kW charge rate the EVSE and on-board charger can handle. I don’t care when the utility charges my battery, as long as it is done on schedule. The utility can control start time and charge rate, and interrupt whenever needed. This will prevent hundreds of thousands of cars (well… SOMEDAY) from all starting at 10pm when the off-peak rates kick in. Also, when utilities need, say, 1 GW of power quickly, they could interrupt charging on 100,000 cars (if charging at 10kW each). If charging could be restarted 10-60 min later, after more generation was dispached, it could still finish on time.

    Proposed V2G communication protocols could be used to accomplish this, and the associated bi-directional chargers would not be needed. No battery life concerns for the EV owner. OnStar is another option, and I am excited to see GM using OnStar to test this out, without V2G hardware required for the cars or EVSE.


    • 0 avatar

      GSP, thanks.

      What you talk about is definitely possible. However I’m not sure that utilities will want to micromanage start times and charge rates. Utilities already have huge amounts of data to contend with, the processing power to assimilate it all is staggering.

      That being said, there exists an opportunity for a third party to offer this type of service to utilities and customers.

  • avatar

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  • avatar

    The Sun don’t always shine
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    But what happens when you mount, on the same lamp post,
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    But for everyone elce, the Future of transportation needs a lot of studying and
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