Many people still see the electric car as a challenge for our electricity suppliers. In addition to overloading our networks, increasing demand for electricity in some states could increase energy consumption and increase dirty emissions of greenhouse gases. It is true that in many states and provinces in North America, much of the electricity is generated from oil and coal.
If until now, the impact of the electric car has been marginal, the arrival on the market of new, better and affordable models like the Chevy Bolt and the highly anticipated Tesla Model 3 will rapidly increase the share of electric cars on the road and, of course, electricity demand.
However, even if the electric grid may need some upgrading to meet the needs in some cases, in the end, the network will greatly benefit from the ability of electric cars to store a large amount of energy. The big issue with solar and wind energy is that they are intermittent. It is therefore not possible for energy producers to match the solar energy production with consumer demand. The ability to store energy will offer the possibility of adding a lot more renewable energy in electricity distribution networks.
Here are 5 positive impacts of electric cars that will facilitate the development of solar energy:
1. It can charge outside peak hours and when the network provides clean energy
The capacity to recharge the car at night is an incredible opportunity for electricity networks to monetize their infrastructure and integrate more intermittent energy sources such as solar power. Currently, a big part of the electricity network capacity is used only a few hours a year, as it must have the ability to meet the peak demands that occur only during periods of extreme cold in the north and heat waves in the south.
There is no need for complicated systems to encourage electric car owners to charge their car overnight. A simple incentive-based pricing during off-peak hours will send a clear message. Most electric cars can be programmed to recharge at specific times.
More and more tools now permit rate-payers to view in real time the type of production used to produce electricity. Some electricity distributors therefore allow electric vehicle owners to maximise the recharging of their vehicle when the network is the cleanest. Of course, this period generally corresponds with off-peak periods. But if much of the network would be powered by wind or solar energy, the proportion of green energy in the network can vary greatly from day to day. Motorists could then adjust their charger to maintain a minimum load required to make routine trips. Then, when the network generates more clean energy, the charger can start to fill the remainder of the battery. What is interesting is that the more the fast charging network will be developed, the more it will be possible to maintain a low battery charge and thus have storage capacity available for periods when the network has a clean energy surplus to offer.
View current production table for Great-Britain
2. The electric car can easily store solar electricity produced nearby
Although some electricity distributors offer incentive rates for customers that produce solar energy (Ontario offers a great rate for solar producers), most distributors only offer an electricity credit. It is therefore possible for electric car owners to use the surplus generated by the solar panels to recharge electric vehicles.
Across the network, the ability to store electricity near the place of production minimizes losses related to the electricity transmission over long distances.
So, with the exponential decrease in the cost of solar panels in recent years, it will be more interesting to combine an electric car with solar panels on the roof or solar carport such as iSun of renewz.
3. The smart grid will soon allow electric cars to put electricity back into the electric grid.
In a few years, the «smart grid» will help families manage their consumption during the peak hours and this will substantially reduce these spikes. While it is already possible to optimize network utilization with current technologies, it is clear that when electric car share will be significant, the ability to integrate V2G (vehicle to grid) technology will dramatically optimize distribution networks. Rather than being built to withstand the significant peak demands, transport and distribution networks will really provide a continuous flow of electrons that can be stored in cars. Then, when demand peaks, the network will only have to pick up the extra energy required from cars that do not need this short-term energy.
With the steady decline in the cost of solar panels, this approach will make it easier for the power grid to manage intermittent energy sources like solar. The “smart grid” will also allow better use of the network of distribution and production, which will facilitate the integration of a larger percentage of green energy. This approach particularly promotes the development of solar energy.
4. The electric car helps to lower exponentially the cost of batteries.
Between 2010 and 2015, the increase in production capacity to meet the demand for electric cars helped decrease the cost of batteries from $ 1,000 to $ 350 per kWh of batteries. And it is far from over. GM said the cost of batteries for Bolt will be $ 145 per kWh. Thanks to investments in R & D and through the economies of scale associated with the exponential increase in production, it is hoped that the cost of batteries will cross the $ 100 mark by 2020. This is what said the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk at the announcement of his Gigafactory. The factory of Tesla built in collaboration with Panasonic aims to generate35 gigawatt-hours (GWh) per year when the project is completed in 2020. Tesla also did not wait for the start of production to unveil its range stationary batteries. Even before they hit the market, the Tesla Powerwall was already a commercial success with 18 000 units had been reserved one week after their unveiling.
5. The old batteries will soon allow to store the intermittent energy
Some of the technologies discussed in this article will still take some time before being marketed and be deployed. But the imminent arrival of large quantities of used batteries will certainly allow energy suppliers to add energy storage capacity in their system to be able to better integrate intermittent energy sources. Most manufacturers who currently manufacture electric cars have already announced battery recovery programs in stationary battery applications. We do not yet know the role these batteries will play in the network of tomorrow. But one thing is certain, if they are not reused, it will mean that the cost of new batteries has fallen so much that the old batteries will be obsolete. That will be good news in itself, and it will always be possible to recycle rare metals contained in these batteries.
In conclusion, although it is still difficult to predict how fast and how electric vehicles will be deployed, it seems clear to us that the rapid adoption of the electric car will have no negative impact on the power grid, but rather that its adoption will allow us to finally create a network that has the potential to be made of 100% clean energy.