How Electric Cars Can Make Your Electricity Cheaper And More Reliable

Electric cars, specifically their batteries, can help balance supply and demand on the grid. In fact, Pacific Gas & Electric and BMW recently released results from a pilot program that demonstrates how electric vehicles can be used as a flexible grid resource while saving money.
Batteries in electric vehicles could help regulate fluctuations caused by disparities in electricity generation and demand. Power flows are balanced with these batteries that provide electricity when demand exceeds supply or absorb excess power when it surpasses demand. As a result, less electricity is wasted and wear and tear on existing infrastructure is diminished.
Electric vehicle batteries can support renewable energy on the grid with their storage capability. Energy provided by renewable sources could be absorbed by the batteries and stored for later use. The stored electricity could be used to operate the vehicle or sold back to the grid and help balance supply and demand.
Because electric vehicle batteries can help balance the load on the grid, they could reduce the amount of money utilities allocate to infrastructure upgrades. Utilities spend a lot of money on infrastructure and maintenance because they must guarantee continuity of the electricity supply.

Such improvements to the electric system, such as transformers or re-conductoring distribution lines, are expensive. One transformer alone can costmillions of dollars, depending on the size and manufacturer.
Maintaining voltage level on the grid is a critical technical challenge for operators. In fact, many major power outages are at least partially attributed to problems related to transmitting volatile power to load centers.
Currently, voltage support is provided by resources that generate power. However, electric vehicle batteries can also generate the power necessary for voltage support. These cars are already located within the load centers where power is needed most, making them an especially useful resource.

Drivers could also reap many benefits as a result of owning an electric car. For instance, electric car batteries could monitor power quality in the home and discharge electricity to prevent disturbances. This is important because poor power quality may result in service interruptions.
In addition, electric car batteries can be used to export power during an outage, enhancing reliability. After the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Mitsubishi Motors sought to provide electricity from its i-MiEV electric car available to power homes. Thus, the MiEV Power Box was created.
The MiEV Power Box makes electricity from a car readily available. The box can be placed in the trunk of a car to ensure electricity is available at any moment. It is about the size of two shoe boxes and weighs almost 25 pounds. The Power Box can also operate with Nichicon’s EV Power Station to provide electricity to an entire house. The station hooks up to a home’s electrical system and is the size of a mini refrigerator.
If the utility provides time differentiated rates, customers may experience lower electricity bills and even make some money from the storage capacity of these car batteries. Such a rate structure would allow drivers to charge their vehicles when the cost of electricity is low during off peak times and sell the electricity back to the grid for a higher rate when demand is high.

Electric vehicles can help save customers money and make the grid more reliable. Patience is necessary as it will take time to develop efficient and accurate vehicle-to-grid technologies to realize these advantages. However, electric vehicles provide many more benefits than just improving air quality – they can enhance the resiliency and reliability of the grid.

As Vice President, Constance Douris manages the Lexington Institute's energy portfolio. You can follow her on Twitter @CVDouris and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC

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