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Dr. Steven Letendre

Dr. Willett Kempton

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Stephen Diehl
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Study suggests electric cars could
pay their owners back

Poultney, VT - Imagine collecting a paycheck from your utility company each month simply for plugging your electric vehicle into the power grid and making it available to supply or download power.

"There's a whole new way to look at energy supply and distribution, and our love affair with cars," said Dr. Steven Letendre, professor of management and environmental studies at Green Mountain College. "In the not-so-distant future, electric cars should be viewed both as environmentally-friendly suppliers of services to the power grid and as sources of income for owners."

An article written by Dr. Letendre and Dr. Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware, appearing in the February 15 issue of Public Utilities Fortnightly suggests that this vehicle-to-grid scenario (dubbed "V2G") is not only feasible, but close to reality in some parts of the U.S.

The V2G idea is both elegantly simple and vastly complex. Electric drive vehicles currently being produced have within them power electronics which generate clean, 60 Hz AC power at power levels ranging from 10kW for the Honda Insight to 100kW for GM's EV1. (A typical home requires 1kW of power, hence one of these vehicles could power the equivalent of several homes.)

By the end of this year, the first wave of vehicles able to supply auxiliary power to homes and contractors will hit the market, but with modest modifications, these vehicles also have the potential to "sell" their electricity back to the power grid, increasing reliability and efficiency of the power system and netting a profit for the car owner.

A V2G-ready car could plug into the grid at any time, making itself available to feed electricity as requested by the grid operator. Furthermore, power could be fed back into the car's batteries when the grid has too much energy flowing through the power lines. Grid operators call this service "regulation down," which helps to maintain a stable grid network. A special meter and controls would communicate with the grid operator to ensure that the vehicle feeds no more than an amount specified by the car's owner. This would ensure enough power remained for driving home from work, for example. A unique serial number within the vehicle's controls would supply a tracking code for the grid operator to maintain account information.
In the most profitable scenario, the owner charges the vehicle while rates are low and provides services to the grid operators as requested. The study estimates that a properly managed V2G car could net the owner close to $3,000 per year.

The article is based on a study commissioned by the California Air Resources Board and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, that was conducted by researchers from Green Mountain College, University of Delaware, University of California Berkeley and AC Propulsion, Inc. The study calculates that the number of government-mandated zero emission vehicles in California alone, could potentially provide the equivalent of two large nuclear power plants.

Looking even further into the future, the Electric Power Research Institute, of Palo Alto, CA, predicts that power from electric-drive vehicles could reduce the global requirement for central station generation capacity by up to 20% by the year 2050.

"We hope our findings on the feasibility of V2G will take hold with decision makers, policymakers, and auto manufacturers as they plan standards for electric transportation," says Letendre. "Already, the state of California has adopted a new electric vehicle charging standard, citing V2G compatibility as a reason for its choice. Ideally, V2G-ready vehicles will be an option available to consumers in the near future."
Several states, including New York, Massachusetts, and Maine, have joined California in creating policies to encourage the development and spread of electric-drive and low pollution vehicles. These policy initiatives combined with advances in power electronics, and the opening of electricity markets across the country are creating opportunities for electric-drive vehicles to reduce air pollution, and at the same time increase the reliability and efficiency of the electric power system.

For more information and interviews with the research team, contact Stephen Diehl, 802-287-8310.


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