Vehicle to Grid – How Electric Vehicles Interact With a Smart Power Electricity Network

What is Vehicle to Grid
Also called Vehicle 2 Grid or V2G, Vehicle to Grid is the process of connecting your electric car into the transmission electricity network. If you have an electric vehicle then you will definitely want to consider setting up V2G through a simple metering system and contract with your local electricity supplier.

What do I need to consider before deciding to connect my vehicle to the grid?

  • Firstly you have to have an electric car which can be charged by a standard electricity outlet.
  • The second thing you will want to do is determine some basic driving habits – i.e. if you drive almost your entire vehicle range to work and back every day, then there is unlikely to be much energy left over to swap between your battery and the grid, which makes setting up V2G a little redundant
  • Having decided that V2G connectivity is possible and feasible, you will need to look at the right products on the market to help you achieve this. I.e. which inverter should be used and which electricity trading contract will suit your needs the best?
  • If you decide suddenly that V2G is not good for you, how can you get out of an otherwise more expensive contract?

Once these basic items have been checked off the list, it is time to call up your utility and start the process of applying for V2G. You can then purchase a suitable inverter which allows you to feed back into the grid (this will be similar if not identical to the type of inverters used on solar PV grid connected power supplies). Of course you will have to decide what sized inverter to go for.

For example, a 5kW inverter may cost $1000 and a 2kW inverter may cost $600. Therefore you have to be sure that you can recover the $400 over being able to sell a higher rate of electricity in peak times. Some simple maths will help you work out the optimal solution, but just be aware of the various pay offs for each option.

Why is Vehicle to Grid (V2G) Good?
Vehicle to Grid applications have a number of benefits for all sorts of businesses and stakeholders. Vehicle to Grid (V2G):

  • Empowers the home consumer to make sensible choices about when they use their electricity through smart metering
  • saves the consumer money in the long run through effective electricity management
  • is green! Every time you supply the grid with electricity during the yearly peak energy demand, you are reducing the need to upgrade the electricity network with more transmission lines and generators
  • You are helping to bring electric vehicles (EV’s) onto the market
  • You are reducing your carbon footprint! This is a big ones these days
  • The electricity company can save money and reduce their unit electricity prices, or reduce the need to increase them
  • reduce the amount of electricity transmission line needed. I.e. the car transports the electricity to where it is needed.
  • Cuts down on the amount of fuel stations required
  • Reduces our addiction to foreign oil through the accelerated introduction of electric vehicles and ability to replace fossil fuel generation with renewable energy generation.
  • Allows more sustainable energy and renewable energy to be introduced onto the electricity grid, as electric vehicle batteries can now act as a buffer to intermittent generation.

The last point is an important one. Traditional transmission networks are struggling to cope with large percentages of intermittent renewable and sustainable energy generation, as electricity generation from these sources is largely dependent on the elements. Therefore to have the ability to store electricity somewhere is important. In many countries power utilities are approaching this by pumping water up a hill and regenerating during peak times (~60% efficiency) or storing hydrogen formed by electrolysis underground ready for re generation (~40% efficiency). Storing electricity in batteries is a much higher efficiency (60% – 90%) however is a little costly.

Japan uses large battery sheds to store small amounts of energy, however vehicle to grid systems also work very well as storage mechanisms and are likely to play this role in the future as more electric vehicles hit the market. How soon we will see such networks will largely rely on the countries commitment to renewable and sustainable energy sources, as well as the abundance of wind, sun and wave energy. Although many companies claim to have a green lining, short term economics of such projects still remains the number one driver for the introduction of such technology.

The advantage to the end consumer who is running a vehicle to grid system is the savings in electricity for essentially hiring out the storage space in their electric car battery. So as we can see, it is a win win for many as it not only reduces the stress on our electricity transmission and generation networks, allows more sustainable energy to be placed on the system with lower carbon emissions, but also saves the end user money whilst making electric vehicles more affordable. It also weans us off our foreign oil addiction through the cost effective introduction of electric vehicles, a topical issue as we approach peak oil status around the world.

For more information you may want to consult your electricity network to find out about their smart metering tariffs. You will also want to look into the purchase of an electric vehicle, or an electric vehicle conversion in able to make use of the vehicle-2-grid (V2G) technology. I guess we can all look forward to a cleaner, greener, cheaper carbon restrained future, and V2G is going to help us get there in a big way!

Car Repair Prices: Should I Go to the Dealer or My Local Guy?

There is lots of advice on where to service one’s vehicle. Many argue that local shops are best, and that you only need to go to the dealer for warranty work and recalls. Others state that dealers are the real experts even though they’re expensive. These arguments are interesting, but do little to clarify the myths and facts of dealership service versus local shop service.

The two primary objectives of these arguments are money and quality. These two interweaving points need to be fleshed out when determining the appropriate facility in which to service a particular vehicle.

In terms of money, all car repair is expensive. Whether at a dealership or local shop, studies show that car repair prices are extreme. Consumers are scammed tens of billions of dollars every year. Every type of service facility: dealerships, local shops, and franchises, are ripping you off in one form or another. Stating that one facility is more expensive fails to recognize that 98% of ALL repair shops are ripping people off.

Moreover, the expense argument of car repair doesn’t take into account the quality of service for the money. The quality of service between a dealership and local shop is a key factor to consider.

There are vast differences in the quality of car repairs. There are many variables, from the customer service received, the diagnosis of the problem, the quality of parts used, to the technician performing the actual repair.

In short, you could have a water pump replaced perfectly, and at a great price, at a dealership. You could have the same job butchered at a local shop. You could easily switch these scenarios, and add ten more variables.

The concern over the quality of repairs is heightened by the fact that the majority of technicians lack the appropriate training, which can also increase the price. Furthermore, depending on the facility, the technician will be limited by the facility’s resources–equipment and expertise, as well as by the service center’s internal policies and practices.

For example, at a dealer, a technician can only use factory parts (parts built by the manufacturer). In most cases, this is great. Factory parts are perfectly designed for the vehicle. However, a twelve-year-old car doesn’t necessarily need a factory part. While it can’t hurt, the age of the car may not justify the expenditure, if the repair can been done for significantly less elsewhere. The technician may know this, and have a great alternative solution “outside company policies.” It’s unlikely, however, that he’ll speak up, or that he’ll even be allowed to speak up.

In cases like these, the customer suffers, having to pay significantly more than necessary. Dealership by-the-book protocols often dictate replacement of expensive parts, and thus dealer personnel will not and/or cannot offer alternatives. Following these mandates isn’t necessarily bad, and this example is not intended to frame dealerships in a negative light. However, repairs in a dealership environment very often exceed the value of the vehicle being repaired.

The point here is to illustrate that depending on the year, condition, and value of one’s vehicle, a dealership “may” not be the best alternative. However, this is rapidly changing. Technological advancements require dealer service more and more for computer updates, software updates, intricate electronic coding, and a host of mechanical concerns outside the scope of the local garage.

Unfortunately, a local shop may not be a good alternative either. At a local shop, a technician has a whole range of parts from which to choose. However, this presents problems. First, most local shops will use local parts suppliers regardless of quality because of speed, convenience, and business relationships. This means that you may get a better price (refer to Car Repair Prices: Who Charges More, Dealerships or Locals @ http://www.repairtrust.com/articles.html for an in-depth discussion on car repair prices). However, the use of many aftermarket parts (parts not built by the manufacturer) can cause numerous problems, and may even cause other systems to fail. This is common–and, you pay for it!

Local shop technicians–the good ones anyway–know the difference between quality parts and cheap parts. However, as mentioned above, the good ones are rare. In light of this, many local shops are turning to the use of factory parts because it’s just less headache. There’s nothing more frustrating than installing an aftermarket component that has to be bent, twisted, tweaked, and manipulated to fit correctly or work properly. Not only is the part made poorly, it’s been modified before it’s even installed. Comforting, isn’t it?

Car repair concerns are not limited to parts. The quality of the worked performed–diagnosis, labor, experience, and installation procedures–is a critical factor. In this arena a dealership technician and a local shop technician are often worlds apart.

A dealer technician has all available information and proper equipment at hand, although he may lack the training to know what to do with it. Nevertheless, he does have a team of co-workers to turn to, and he can draw from their experience. Dealer technicians also see your car and its types of problems daily, and what might be a complicated repair for a local shop is quite easy for a dealer.

However, the structure and flat-rate environment of dealerships very often cause even experienced technicians to overlook even simple problems. This is exacerbated by the lack of effective of communication of an inexperienced or overwhelmed service advisor who is supposed to be advocating on your behalf. While there are numerous other obstacles, the point is that dealers are in the dark ages in terms of consistent quality service.

Before discussing what’s better, a dealership or local shop, a final point to consider is the condition of your vehicle after several years. What facility keeps your vehicle in “better” condition: a dealership or local shop? And, does this “better” condition translate into dollars?

Given the current state of the service industry, it would be an aberration to receive consistent, quality service anywhere. Nevertheless, both local shops and dealerships are a vital component of the automotive service community. The consistent use of inferior parts and poor workmanship continues to be the local shop’s downfall. Vehicles need to be maintained according to manufacturer specifications. There’s no argument on this. Although dealers still struggle with good customer service and consistent positive results, a well-maintained vehicle from a state-of-the-art dealership results in a significantly better quality vehicle, long term. A better quality vehicle increases its value.

EV Basics II – An Electric Vehicle Primer

Important Acronyms:

BEV – Battery electric vehicle, a vehicle which uses only batteries and one or more motors to provide the force that makes it go.

EV – Electric vehicle, any vehicle that uses electric power to provide some or all of its propulsive force.

FCEV – Fuel cell electric vehicle, an electric vehicle which uses a hydrogen fuel cell as its source of electric power.

HEV – Hybrid electric vehicle, a car or truck that uses both an ICE and an electric motor.

ICE – Internal combustion engine, the powerplant of choice for the dirty, inefficient vehicles of the 20th Century.

PHEV – Plug-in hybrid vehicle, a hybrid vehicle with a battery pack that can be charged from a wall socket.

Have you just developed an interest in electric vehicles? Are you looking to learn some EV fundamentals? You’ve come to the right place! Read on, and you will start your education on the wonders of EVs. In this article, I will introduce readers to some of the various different types of EVs and explaing some of the advantages and issues associated with each type. Note that this article is only an introduction. I will go into more depth on different aspects of the subject matter in future installments of the “EV Basics” series.

There are several different power trains available which use electric motors. The simplest of these vehicles is the battery electric vehicle or BEV. This is a pure electric vehicle which uses only a battery pack and an electric motor to store energy and create the power necessary to make the car or truck move. BEVs have been around for a long time. In 1835, Thomas Davenport built a railway operated by a small electric motor. In the early years of the 20th Century, BEVs competed quite successfully with ICE-powered vehicles. It was not until Henry Ford started building the Model T that gasoline-powered cars that BEVs faded from public view.

In the 1960s, BEVs began to make a comeback. Interest in electric vehicles has grown steadily since then as concerns about pollution and dependence on foreign oil have permeated mainstream consciousness. Currently, BEVs are being designed and built in a wide variety of styles and layouts, from electric scooters, to low-speed electric cars such as those produced by Zenn Motor Company, to high-power freeway burners such as the two-seat Tesla Roadster or the family-friendly, five-passenger eBox by AC Propulsion.

BEVs must face a few hurdles if they are to replace ICE-only cars as our primary method of transportation. Historically, they have had limited driving range, significantly less than the range of a gasoline-powered car. Additionally, BEV have generally taken several hours to recharge the battery pack. In a world in which people have gotten used to instant gratification, this poses a real problem. The good news is that many people are working on these issues, and dramatic improvements are being made in both range and recharging time. Current EV designs have achieved ranges of more than 300 miles and charging times have been brought down to two hours or less in some models charged with high-powered “smart” chargers.

In the 1990s, Honda and Toyota introduced the American driving public to the hybrid electric vehicle or HEV. These vehicles use both an ICE and an electric motor. There are different types of HEVs which layout the engine and the motor in either a parallel or a series configuration. In a series configuration, the ICE acts only as an electrical generator. In a parallel configuration the ICE again acts as a generator, but it also drives the vehicle’s wheels just as the engine would do in an ICE-only vehicle.

HEVs provide significant benefits over ICE-only cars in two distinct areas. Firstly, the electric motor allows engineers to operate the ICE more efficiently because an HEV can rely heavily on the electric motor at points in which the ICE would be operating very inefficiently. Secondly, the battery pack in an HEV can be used to recapture the energy used while braking. To accomplish this, engineers create regenerative braking systems which used the electrical resistance of a generator to slow the car down long before they mechanical brakes come into play. The energy from the generator is then stored in the battery pack for future use. In a car without regenerative braking, all this energy is wasted by creating heat and wearing down the brake pads.

HEVs also have some problems. Unlike BEVs, they require some gasoline or other liquid fuel to operate. Also, they are more complicated then either a BEV or an ICE-only vehicle because they require both types of drivetrain components under one hood. However, they eliminate the range and recharging issues associated with BEVs, so HEVs can be viewed as a good transition step to the vehicles of the future.

Recently, much attention has been paid to plug-in hybrids or PHEVs. In essence, a PHEV is an HEV with a larger battery pack, a plug which allows the battery pack to be charged from a wall socket, and a control system which allows the vehicle to be operated in electric-only mode. The wall-charging feature allows a PHEV to get some of its power from the utility grid (or from a local power source such as a photovoltaic array or wind turbine) and some of its power from gasoline. Recently, several companies and individuals have been working on creating plug-in versions of the Toyota Prius. These conversions allow the Prius to run in all-electric mode until it reaches roughly 35mph. They give varying traveling ranges in all-electric mode, depending on which type of batteries are used and how many extra batteries are installed.

While these plug-in Priuses are a good start, PHEVs as a genre have even more potential. General Motors recently introduced the Chevrolet Volt E-Flex concept car, a PHEV which can travel up to 40 miles in electric only mode. It has a large electric motor and a one liter, three cylinder ICE. PHEVs of the future could follow this trend even further, maximizing the electric elements of the drivetrain while reducing the ICE to a tiny power plant which gets used only as a last resort.

In the last few years, fuel cell electric vehicles or FCEVs have grabbed many headlines. These are electric vehicles which use a hydrogen fuel cell to provide power, eliminating the need for a battery pack. Proponents point out that hydrogen is the most abundant of the chemical elements and that the only gas emitted from an FCEV is steam made from pure water. Detractors point out that nearly all hydrogen currently available is made from natural gas, a petroleum product. Hydrogen is also difficult to store in quantities sufficient to give FCEVs adequate range and it can present safety hazards when pressurized in tanks. Finally, FCEVs currently require complex, bulky support systems which take up excessive space and result in power delivery systems which are far less efficient than those present in BEVs.

Fuel cells have some potential to become part of the overall energy scenario in the future. However, many feel that FCEVs have been used primarily as a distraction and a stalling device. Companies and politicians keep telling us, “We’ll have FCEVs in the near future, but until then keep driving your Hummers!” These tactics keep people from demanding BEVs as soon as possible. As one saying puts it, “Practical, viable fuel cells are ten to twenty years away, and they always will be.”

One other type of electric vehicle is the human-assist hybrid. The most common example of this vehicle type is the electric bicycle. These are commonly-available, inexpensive, and they give people the health benefits associated with exercise while providing an additional boost when needed. Legally, they must be limited to 20 mph in electric assist mode, and the electric-only range of electric bikes now available is almost always less than twenty miles.

However, readers should ponder the fact that a small, aerodynamic vehicle can cruise at 65 mph on a flat road while using only five horsepower. Imagine the roads covered with small, efficient vehicles that use tiny electric motors and human power to achieve freeway speeds without putting a significant burden on the utility grid. While no major corporations are working on vehicles like this, small groups of dedicated individuals are working to make this type of vehicle available to the general public. These low-power vehicles could become the ultimate transportation solution for an energy-conscious society.

So there you have it! You now have enough information to join EV-related conversations at your next social gathering. You can talk about the different types of EVs, letting people know what is available now and what is coming in the near future. If you are still curious for more details on the benefits of electric vehicles and the advances which are being made in the field, please see the other articles in this “EV Basics” series.