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Cars Slated to Solve Denmark’s Wind Problem

Denmark gets 20% of its electricity from the wind; but that’s a problem. It isn’t a steady 20%; sometimes it’s 40%; sometimes it’s none.  Because the sources of the other 80% of their electricity can’t be turned of whenever there’s a gust of wind, Denmark sells surplus electricity to neighbors. That requires bigger and bigger grid connections and involves sales at very low prices.

The plan is to use electric cars to help solve the surplus problem, reduce pollution, and reduce petroleum imports. According to an article in the WSJ (subscription required),  the Danish utility Dong Energy A/S has a deal with Better PLC (aka Project Better Place in Palo Alto founded by former SAP CEO and blogger Shai Agassi). More about Project Better Place and its plan to market electric cars like cellphones with an upfront subsidy and a profit on the energy sold to run them in an upcoming post.

The electric cars, of course, are perfect for soaking up energy at night when other demand is low but wind speeds high. Assuming variable electric pricing, there’s an incentive for people to “top off” when electrons are cheapest. Swappable batteries and a network of battery swap stations by 2010 are part of the plan so there is an incentive, also, for both consumers and rechargers to invest in extra batteries to make sure they DON’T have to charge on windless nights when electricity costs more. From a grid POV, providing extra energy at night from traditional sources is much less of a problem and expense than any addition to peak load.

Let’s riff on this plan. Imagine that you have a Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) in your garage (The cars being built for the Better Project by a Renault-Nissan alliance are pure electric but you wanted more range since America doesn’t yet have a network of battery swap stations yet). When electricity is cheap, you buy it (or the robot you programmed does) and store it in your batteries. That’s good but there’s more.

Obviously, if the price of electricity gets high temporarily you can NOT buy and either not travel or use the gasoline that your hybrid also burns. But there’s more.

If the price of electricity spikes – could happen during the day when you’re home sick – you COULD sell the electricity in your battery back to the grid. But there’s still more.

If there’s a real spike, your PHEV could be instructed by the bot to turn on its engine and start generating electricity for sale.

But wait, you say, that’s not very green. But it is.

The more backup there is, the more feasible wind and solar are as a primary source. The more use you can get out of the capital you put into a PHEV, the more likely you are to buy it. The more local energy shortfalls can be met locally, the more efficient the grid is both in energy lost in transmission and use of transmission capacity. And the less capital that has to go into building backup and peak capacity in the grid, the more investment can go into building a greener baseline. By burning a little gasoline from time to time, you avoid burning a lot all the time which is what we’re doing now.

BTW, Shai claims that just the wind energy which Denmark sells to its neighbors is enough energy to power ALL Danish cars.

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Comments

Vanessa

Don't wish to imagine, wish I could have one right now.

Don Price

The whole energy storage problem is one that plagues the incredible potentials for wind power electric generation. I believe you are on the way of pointing out one key aspect of a solution to the problem. The solution will come not out of on single solution but one which involves a collection one which could be as you propose generating electricity back into the grid from your hybrid car.
One aspect that avoids mention in your comments is energy storage does not have to involve complex batteries, or potentially environmentally impacting chemical reactions. There are some good ideas floating around in novel ways to store energy on demand to meet the wide swings in energy supply such as wind. It is simple physics; take a kinetic energy source and store in a potential energy source. It can be as simple as a water fall. These solutions do augment the existing distribution system we have in place today and scale at effective use of capital in environmentally sensitivity means.

Tom Evslin

CJ:

Good article. I agree that highspeed information transmission is a necessary part of effecient energy use - really an opportunity.

Tom Evslin

Adam:

Thanks. But I don't promise to keep making sense... too much to dream about

CJ

Tom,
Here is a solution that I wrote about on a local news web site down this way.

http://www.iberkshires.com/story.php?story_id=26535

Aaron D. Osgood

Great points, Tom. Be careful, you are beginning to make sense!

Aaron D. Osgood

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carphile

A very interesting piece of information. Denmark offers a really smart solution to avoid the surplus of electricity. I would love to have such a car in my garage, also...

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