There’s been a lot of talk recently about how plug-in hybrids will change the economics of wind. The idea is that they con be programmed to charge when there is surplus capacity on the electric grid (at night, and especially when the wind is blowing), and even act to do a little peak shaving by providing back up power during peak times, a technology referred to as Vehicle-to-Grid or V2G. Hybrids-Plus of Boulder has even teamed up with Colorado’s Office of Energy Management and Conservationand others to build a demonstration Prius+ with V2G capability.
This is a great idea, and it is likely to both speed the adoption of plug-in hybrids (because the energy management services a car with V2G capability can offer are valuable to a utility, and so some utilities will probably be persuaded to provide a rebate to buyers in their service area) and the adoption of wind power (because the intermittent power from can be used more effectively by plug-in-hybrids than it can by the current gird.
Unfortunately, it will be at least 5 years and probably a lot more before we see mass production plug-in-hybrid or electric vehicles with V2G, given the long lead times needed to introduce new models and technology in the automotive industry. This got me thinking: why does the V2G concept have to be limited to cars? Don’t we have lots of electronic equipment that has internal batteries for portable use, but which we often leave plugged in to the grid?
The answer, of course, is right in front of me: my laptop. There are lots of them, they all have batteries, and they’re usually plugged in (mine is, at least.)
Uninterruptible power supplies(UPS) are less common, but perhaps even better candidates, because there is no weight constraint imposed by the fact that we often lug our laptops around with us, and are always plugged in. If an electric utility were to offer relatively large rebates (through a Demand Side Management program) to customers who bought a special UPS that the could signal to only charge when there was surplus power was available on the grid, and to supply high-value power to the grid at peak, many businesses and individuals for whom a battery backup was only a matter of convenience rather than necessity might buy them. Such an upgraded UPS would likely extensive additions to the electronics, because they already have electronics to regulate voltage drops and spikes for the devices plugged into them. I’m no electrical engineer, but it seems to be that it would not be too difficult to reconfigure a UPS to provide regulation and virtual spinning reserves for the grid as a whole.
The great advantage of this approach is that a V2G UPS could be available to the public much sooner than a V2G plug-in hybrid. This would allow utilities the opportunity to evaluate the effects of fairly large scale deployment of V2G plug-in hybrids, without nearly as much expense, and years sooner than could happen with cars.
Is there an investment opportunity which would benefit from this idea? A lot of the same companies that are likely to benefit from the grid upgrades we need anyway. The extra demand for batteries will help battery makers, as well as makers of other electricity storage devices such as ultracapacitors and flywheels. Other industries that might benefit are makers of UPS systems and laptop power supplies; power electronics in general, but especially companies that build small scale and consumer power supplies and regulation devices. The whole point of the idea is that the cost is spread out to lots of consumers who are buying these devices for reasons unrelated to making the grid function better, but that they are much cheaper because of this added benefit to the utility.
Alone, this is not a good reason to buy power electronics companies, so the thing to do is to research the industry, and find companies you think are worth buying anyway. The possibility of widespread Laptop-2-Grid, UPS-2-Grid, rechargeable flashlight-2-Grid, and so on are just an added possible benefit on the upside, and perhaps some incentive to look at the industry in the first place.