For whatever reason, I came across a number of developments today in the plug-in electric vehicle space. In that PEVs are another example of technology that empowers the individual energy user, (and I just posted on a similar theme), I thought I'd highlight them here. Apologies for the lack of structure or continuity in this post.
"Smart charging" plug-ins
Some estimates place the number of plug-in vehicles by 2015 at 500K to 1.5 million. Unfortunately, for utilities, if plug-in electric cars achieve anywhere near this level of penetration, the electricity usage could be enormous.
For example, in an ACEEE study last year, a typical electric-only car might have an efficiency of 4 miles per kWh. If you assume an average 1,000 miles per month driving (and possibly more with the anticipated reduction in fuel prices) one car could “consume” 250 kWh per month. According to the EIA, the average household used about 900 kWh back in 2001 (their most recent data). Thus, acknowledging the multiple caveats associated with back of the envelope calculations such as this, switching from a gasoline-powered car to a pure electric would increase household energy usage by over 25%.
Therefore, while the actual fuel savings (and accompanying emissions reductions) would be significant, plug-in electric cars would need large amounts to draw large amounts of electricity from already over-stretched utilities and infrastructure.
This is where companies such as V2Green come in. V2Green is an early-stage venture focused on developing both the hardware and software necessary for utilities to efficiently manage the rate, pace and timing for charging plug-in vehicle. Its technology would allow thousands of vehicles to wirelessly communicate with utilities in order to determine the optimal charge time. The company faces a number of challenges (need for outside capital, partnering with both utilities and vehicle manufacturers, small current market size), but believes it is poised as the leader in a new market opportunity. Today, it announced a transition to a new CEO who will focus on V2Green’s growing business responsibilities (a typical process for most new technology ventures).
Over the past few months, Earth2Tech has written a number of smart posts focused on the company, and the broader challenges and opportunities in managing the electricity needs of plug-in vehicles and the potential for this new technology. Recommended if you're interested in learning more, and also here (h/t Earth2Tech).
Rapid charging of plug-in electric vehicles
Along a similar vein comes this commentary from Leonardo Energy today.
When screening the data sheets of prototypes electric vehicles and electric vehicle batteries, you often come across some spectacular recharging speeds…What the data sheets don’t say is that the electric connection must be capable of supplying sufficient power for this rapid recharging....Consequently, rapid charging would be impossible at home. Moreover, it would create a serious challenge for any grid connections for electric recharging stations located along the road…The articles and study within the post add context, and are an informative read if this is of interest.
…That is why some experts, like Andrew Burke, an electric vehicle engineering pioneer at the University of California, see the rapid charging of plug-ins as a technological dead end. Others, like Alan Gotcher, CEO of Altair Nanotechnologies, see those barriers merely as challenges that need to be overcome. Watch this space to see which of these two visions prove right.
Finally, I wanted to close on a couple of developments that involve the actual batteries with the vehicles. While this should be a much longer post, I am including these two links here to highlight the fact that many technological advances that could impact PEV's are coming from parallel industries. This article (from several months back) helps explain the value of the two potential advances below:
Nanowire battery can hold 10 times the charge of existing lithium-ion battery
Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.A Better Battery for Laptops
The new technology, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries.
Cui said that a patent application has been filed. He is considering formation of a company or an agreement with a battery manufacturer. Manufacturing the nanowire batteries would require "one or two different steps, but the process can certainly be scaled up," he added. "It's a well understood process."
Boston-Power says that it's poised to enter the market for portable power, with a notebook battery the company claims is safer, lasts longer, and can be charged faster. The Westborough, MA, startup recently announced that it is more than tripling production of its high-performance battery, called the Sonata, after receiving $45 million in a third round of venture financing. The move puts the company in a position to mass-produce and commercialize its next-generation lithium-ion battery within months…While focused on laptop computer batteries, there are hybrid-electric vehicle applications as well:
The unmatched safety benefits available from Boston-Power's technology apply in …other applications such as hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). With existing notebook computer batteries containing roughly the same power as hand grenades -- and HEV batteries representing far greater than that -- Boston-Power's proactive, preventative safety features overcome the issues challenging current Lithium-ion batteries.