Keeping the Lights ON!

Maintaining reliable grids in a deregulated power industry will get harder, as temptations to cut corners multiply

15 min read

POWER

Of all the energy conversion processes in existence, the U.S. electric power system is the largest and most complex. Unlike such industries as communications and transportation, where a demand in excess of supply produces a "busy signal" or temporary grid lock, the nature of the electric power system is one of instantaneously matching supply and demand. Failure to sustain this balancing act can result in partial or complete breakdown of the grid system. Even just a disruption in supply or a merely inadequate voltage can cause key industries like oil refining and high-technology manufacturing to suffer expensive shutdowns and lengthy production line recovery times.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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