Electric cars can serve as mobile power storage, save billions on infrastructure

Despite recent revelations that car dealerships talk down on electric vehicles, clean cars still have plenty of pull for prospective buyers, not least of which is the sense of environmental responsibility that goes along with abandoning fossil fuels.

A new study out of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California shows how EVs may also have an added benefit for society at large, bolstering the clean energy grid by providing mobile power storage.

“We have demonstrated the value of using EVs to support the electrical grid without compromising the mobility of EV owners,” Jonathan Coignard, a scientific engineering associate at the Berkeley Lab, told Digital Trends. “We imagine a world where EV owners earn money when they park their vehicle. The storage that EVs can provide would increase the ability of the grid to support local renewable energies, thus creating synergies between a clean electrical grid, energy independence, and clean vehicles.”

In the report, Coignard and his team evaluated the large-scale rollout of renewable sources across the energy grid, daily changes in demand, and how EVs could help mitigate the impact of daytime overproduction and evening energy surges by being charged in a controlled manner. That is, rather than charging in the evening, when demand is highest but supply is lowest, EVs could be charged at predetermined times and destinations throughout the day.

The team used California as a case study. The state has set ambitious clean energy goals, including 1.5 million zero emissions vehicles by 2025.

“In short, EVs tend to be charging after their daily home-to-work commutes, charging in the evening at home, and in the early morning at workplaces,” Coignard said. “Unfortunately, this doesn’t naturally coincide with solar generation in the afternoon. Since vehicles are parked an average 95 percent of the time, we have been looking at how much of their energy demand could be shifted in the afternoon to help the grid with the new challenges brought by solar plants.”

The team’s research showed that California’s storage mandate could be met with controlled charging procedures, using technology and infrastructure that’s already available today. If executed correctly, this could save states billions of dollars on installation of new stationary storage facilities.

The research was published this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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