How electric cars can help balance wind power

Are electric cars the key to boosting wind power capacity?

It’s well known that wind power is intermittent, which means that wind farms typically do not have power outputs equal to their total capacity. And there are basically three ways of dealing with this.

One is to install more capacity than is needed over a broad area, another is to balance the load with quick-starting natural gas “peaker” plants (which are already used to improve reliability today), and the third is to have some sort of energy storage to absorb the peaks and supplement the lulls.

Electric cars have often been seen as a means of balancing renewable energy sources. As the theory goes, EVs are basically giant batteries on wheels, with enough of them plugged in, grid operators could use them to help absorb spikes from renewable power sources.

A new study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories puts some numbers to that theory. Researchers determined that if there were 2.1 million electric vehicles on the road in the seven states served by the Northwest Power Pool, an additional 10 GW of wind power could be added to the grid without a need for additional power plants for backup (as a point of reference, Oregon, the region’s wind power leader, currently has about 2 GW of installed capacity). This would be accomplished by using “Grid Friendly” charging technology that is responsive to grid conditions.

This is a tall order to be sure – 2.1 million cars would be about 13 percent of the existing vehicles on the road in the region. But if electric cars are shown to have utility in offsetting power production costs, it could make the case for additional — or continuing — incentives for buyers.

Photo by colannade via Creative Commons

4 thoughts on “How electric cars can help balance wind power

  1. Demonstrating the continuing desire to have energy policy based upon bubbles, rainbows, unicorns and kites. MN and the midwest is already taking the “over-build capacity” route with CapX2020. How many electric cars are currently on the road? How well do their batteries work when it is 20 below zero in the Midwest (every winter)? Most wind projects produce and put electricity onto the grid in RURAL areas where electric cars are LEAST likely to be plugged into the grid. The further you transmit electricity, the less efficient it is. If you venture out of your urban heat bubble, you might notice that the distances between things in the hinter lands are VERY FAR. This sounds like just another study of “if only reality didn’t exist, then pigs would fly, just as our model shows here.”

  2. I suppose I missed the part that said the cars had to be plugged in *right next to* the wind turbines…

  3. @rural55956, the electricity generated by the wind turbines would still be consumed locally, but when the wind is peaking, the electricity that WOULD OTHERWISE BE serving that area would be redirected to grid-aware charging stations for electric cars. When wind is low, the grid-aware charging stations would be setup to reduce their draw depending on how they are configured (may depend on the current charge level of the car or the time of day, etc.)

  4. @rural55956, CapX2020 lines are as much about improving reliability and getting coal power delivered as they are about integrating wind. And what’s wrong with getting a better bang for your buck from existing and future wind with smart EV charging? It’s better to have a load to serve when the wind is blowing, than to have too little load and just have to turn the wind turbines off… or needing more transmission… or charging EVs only from coal, gas & nuclear! Also, the article is talking about the Northwest, a much milder more EV ready area…