Vehicle to Grid, without the Vehicle

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.

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6 Comments

  1. [...] 3V2G… without the Vehicle [...]

  2. Consider the power company’s point of view. To mitigate x amout of new power plant construction they’ll need to have y storage capacity installed. To the end-user the advantage is continuous power. However, at what cost? Electrical power in the US is already (generally) very reliable. The power company might be willing to share the cost of a large site-wide UPS, if it in return had control and maintenance assurances.

    Rather than starting with laptops and flashlights, this looks more like starting with power company approved control systems attached to backup generators or banks of batteries at computer server farms.

    (Soon I’ll figure out trackbacks… ;-)

  3. PS – To be fair, JCWinnie made the same point in my previous comment before I did. Guess I agree. Key to this is clearly establishing a legal mechanism for shared ownership and control of the on-site “shaving” generators.

    It was not clear to me from the post above, but if the idea is to do peak shaving only within a single home whose electricity is net metered then the advantage would be measurable as direct end-user cost savings. So your in-home Ups might balance out your individual house’s power consumption to zero at midday in summer . How many Ups, to run a home AC? Note that they would need to balance across, e.g. three phases or “legs” into the home.

  4. tomkonrad said

    What I had been pushing towards in the blog would be something more sophistocated than using your UPS to take advantage of differing time of use rates… About a month or two ago I actually read about a refrigerator sized box that was designed to do just that: draw power from the grid when it’s cheap, and deliver it to the user whenever he needs it. It retailed for tens of thousands of dollars, although I think the story mentioned that a utility was considering buying them and renting them out. I don’t know where I read that.

    What I was thinking was that the utility would have control of when the UPS took and supplied power to the grid, and so they would get the entire benefit (and the benefit would be larger because the utility is capable of second-to-second timing. Infomation would be transferred along the electrical lines, along with current. In exchange for this benefit, the utility would give a rebate to their customers who bought this UPS for buying the type that had this capability. Clearly there would be a lot of barriers to implementation, but they would probably be less than Vehicle to Grid, because cars are much more complex and expensive than UPS systems.

    In all of this I was simply thinking of UPS as an example…. the more different types of rechargable electronics that could incorporate this technology, the better, although there would clearly be an economic problem with installing them in devices with smaller storage capacity, such as my rechargable flashlight example.

  5. Carlos said

    It’s the simple things that are so often overlooked. A few points on V2G. There’s a small chicken/egg situation here. Before V2G is genunitely useful, there must be a large number of cars, both for capacity and to ensure that any one region is covered (reliant on random distrubution). Now there’s a bit of an overhead on top of the car price in buying a V2G car, one that won’t have any payback till those numbers are available. See the need for a government kickstart?Secondly, I do hope that somebody is working on a (globally) standard V2G plug. Remember, we need those cars plugged no matter where they pull up. If owners have to play with adapters each time, that might be the last straw.Then there’s the comms protocols, better get those nailed down up front as well. If there’s going to be a dollar in it for vehicle owners, they must have portability. If utilities can lock cars to contracts, that’s not much of a free market. V2G is the best idea of 2006. It’s the key to solving the renewable energy/BEV/global warming/peak oil/clean air puzzle. Whatever we do, we must get this right.Cheers, Carlos,Sydney, Australia

  6. [...] been writing about the smart grid and its potential since before I joined AltEnergyStocks, in 2007, although at the time, I wasn’t using the term: I mostly called it "Smart [...]

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