Can electric cars save utilities

Can Electric Cars Save Utilities?

Over the past decade, we as a society have become much more energy efficient; we have energy efficient light bulbs, our appliances require less watts, and we can even install solar panels onto our homes to generate our own energy. Undoubtedly, these are great steps to take if we want to preserve natural resources and save some capital for other expenses like shopping or groceries. But is there a downside to someone?

As mentioned in a previous blog, the utility death spiral is a reality that could be all too imminent. Hawaii and some parts of Europe are already seeing the foreboding signs of a utility crisis. A result of declining prices and rising costs, utility companies are left desperate for new load growth. Utilities have been threatened by numerous factors like LED bulbs, on-site solar, and energy efficient appliances, which cause significant declines in utility sales. If revenue falls too quickly, then utilities become liable to start in free-fall, much like what happened in Germany where utilities lost half a trillion euros in their markets. Innovation and progressive change are good, but pace is pertinent in their execution. 

Another haunting reality for utilities is the void of commonly found, high-demand appliances in consumer facilities. Decades have passed since the refrigerator or heating and A/C units, all of which require considerable amounts of energy to operate, have been taken into our homes and commercial facilities. When these appliances were first introduced, utilities saw a major increase of demand. But that was long ago, and we have since become a much more energy efficient society, especially with largely encouraged renewable energy sectors.

However, quick innovation can involve shifts in losses and benefits from one industry to another. So if the electric car companies can take business away from the gigantic petroleum energy by releasing more electric cars (EV’s), then everybody wins. Well, everybody except the petroleum industry, but that’s another discussion.

Can a Shift to Electric Cars Save Utilities?

The answer to this question is a bit complicated. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) states that transportation energy is the second largest consumer of energy in the U.S, right behind electric power generation. However, a predictable 93% of that power comes from petroleum products. A recent post by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) claims that EV’s could provide the load growth that utility companies so desperately need. EEI published a post on Transportation Electrification back in 2014. This post details how EV’s could benefit all parties involved, society included, if we moved from petroleum powered vehicles to battery powered ones.

Between 2007 and 2013, retail sales of electricity in the United States across all sectors dropped 2%. In addition, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s energy infrastructure a D+ grade in their 2013 report card and estimated a 3.6 trillion dollar investment needed by 2020.

–Transportation Electrification, EEI

However, there are some foreseeable problems with a large scale shift to EV’s. One being that peak demand times could be significantly increased by people charging their EV’s. From what we notice today, EV owners typically charge their vehicles when they get home from work. Makes sense, right? You get home, plug in your car, and go inside to watch football and chill out for a while. The only issue with that is that utilities already see peak load times around these hours, so adding even more demand during these times could prove costly and difficult for utilities to handle. Some utilities, including Alabama Power, are hoping to fight this by offering qualifying EV owners rate incentives if they charge their vehicles in off-peak hours, which, if done correctly, could actually benefit grid stability and efficiency.

“Alabama Power offers an optional rate rider for customers with a Plug-in electric vehicle (PEV). The rate rider allows customers to charge their electric vehicle at a discounted rate during off-peak hours of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. To qualify for eligibility, a customer must own a PEV that is manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways. Electric scooters, electric bicycles, golf carts, and motorized electric wheelchairs are not included.”

California’s Shift

EEI claims that a large scale electric transportation shift would benefit the electric vehicle industry, the consumer, the environment, and especially utilities who need to see a significant rise in load growth. As we know, electric vehicles have significantly lower carbon emissions that damage the atmosphere, save the consumer money on gas, and would cause a considerable rise in electric demand for utility companies.

California is already making notable efforts in regards to filling it’s streets with electric vehicles. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) received several proposals from different companies who wish to accomplish different goals in expanding their fleets to exclusively EV’s and installing thousands of new EV charging stations. The proposals are filed under California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle Program that plans to propagate a utility infrastructure to support 1 million Ev’s by 2020. The state hit 250,000 in late 2016.

The proposals approximate to 1 billion dollars in funding. If granted, tens of thousands of charging stations would be installed in California airports, ports, warehouses, and residencies. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is seeking $253 million for three efforts: “expanding electrification for fleets with medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, responding to consumer demand for fast-charging stations, and exploring new uses for vehicle electrification through five, one-year projects.”

Vehicle Electrification and Alabama

Alabama faces one big problem with the electrification of its transportation industry: charging. Alabama is all but void of any charging facilities that EV’s so desperately need. If utilities are truly depending on EV’s for the load growth that they need, then charging station projects would have to come soon.

Additionally, Alabama needs to take a hard look at its policy in the transportation policy to encourage growth in electric transportation. These changes could be everything from building codes at the local level that require installation of chargers for large destinations to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) using Volkswagen settlement money to build the infrastructure for heavy duty trucks.

As you can see from California’s example, where energy efficiency and renewables have stunted electric demand growth, utilities are making aggressive moves to electrify transportation. Regulators are working with electric utilities to build the shared infrastructure while keep the market open to private sector innovations. We hope Alabama will follow suit.

Peak Car Ownership: Is a Transportation Revolution Just Around the Corner?

Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Institute say in a detailed study that private car ownership will hit its peak by 2020. If these researchers are correct, it could spell the beginning of a new energy and technological revolution – if, and only if, companies prepare for such an event by researching automated personal mobility powered by electric powertrains. Thankfully, as the study points out, companies such as Lyft and Uber are already exploring self-driving robot taxis, as well as Apple, Google, and Tesla. In a few years, then, as the study claims, these companies will absolutely produce a new mobility system that is superior to our existing system. But what effects will this emerging mobility system have on the energy sector?

The study’s authors, Charlie Johnson and Jonathan Walker, say that “this future system has the potential to reduce costs by over $1 trillion, reduce CO2 emissions by a gigaton, and save tens of thousands of lives per year in the U.S. alone.” When people stop buying their own vehicles and begin using a city’s autonomous, electrically-powered taxi system, there will be a major decrease in gasoline demand, as the study suggests.

 

For many, though, it’s not about if the transition will happen (because there are few who doubt it), it’s all about when the transition will happen. Many are less optimistic about the Rocky Mountain Institute’s projections. Margo Oge, a former EPA transportation and air quality official, says that “In the end the overall success of autonomous mobility will be based on public trust. It’s not just an issue of technology. Trust takes time to develop.” By 2020, when the Rocky Mountain Institute projects we will hit peak car ownership, will cities be ready to convert to an entirely shared, automated, and electrified fleet of personal mobility vehicles? Probably not. But there’s still hope!

Walker, of the Rocky Mountain Institute, asserts that “there’s people who say the technology’s not going to be ready, but they’re quoting things like 5 or 10 years, when a year ago, they were quoting 30 years.” Who knows? A transportation revolution could happen sooner than we think. We’re crossing our fingers.

Energy Alabama and GASP Comment on Alabama’s Volkswagen Beneficiary Mitigation Plan

Energy Alabama, along with GASP, provided comments to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) on their effort to draft Alabama’s Volkswagen Beneficiary Mitigation Plan (BMP). The BMP will be the state of Alabama’s strategy to best use Volkswagen’s settlement monies pursuant to a Clean Air Act violation.

Our comments included what we believe to be the three most important principles for ADEM to consider:

  1. Pursuing actions with the largest emissions reduction per dollar spent;
  2. Pursuing actions that reduce future stranded infrastructure costs;
  3. Pursuing options that lend themselves to clear metrics and demonstrable results.

Furthermore, our overarching recommendations for ADEM included:

  1. Emphasize electrification of all transportation
  2. Work with utilities to share data
  3. Track and report emissions reduction to the public
  4. Invest in projects with large immediate emissions reductions for heavy-duty transportation

Our full comments can be found here: https://alcse.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Volkswagen-Settlement-Beneficiary-Mitigation-Plan_20170511_FINAL.pdf

Are you Familiar with RideShare?

Everyone knows about carpooling, that’s been around for years, but what is RideShare?

RideShare is a unique program offered by Enterprise that allows you to reduce not only the cost of carpooling, but reduces the wear and tear on your vehicle.

The program is simple, you get a group of at least seven people who need to get from Point A to Point B. One person coordinates and signs up for RideShare, then Enterprise provides a vehicle to match the size of your group. They offer vehicles that carry anywhere from 7 to 15 passengers. The price is based on the miles traveled and the vehicle rented, and can be split among all the passengers. And, don’t worry the coordinator doesn’t have to do all the driving – everyone can still take turns! Insurance is also provided as part of the rental fee.

I know you are thinking “but won’t this be more expensive than just a regular car pool? No. Not really, when you split the cost over more people, reduce the wear and tear, and miles used on your own vehicles, you will likely be saving money!

This is basically a long-term rental so you keep the vehicle as long as you are participating in the program, or you can pass it around the group to whomever is driving that week.

So, why is Energy Alabama talking about this anyway?

It’s simple really. When people share the ride, fewer vehicles are on the road. That means you are using less energy and less gas, and it means that you are saving money. It’s all about sustainable energy baby!

Ready to RideShare?

Let’s do it! Whether you are a company looking to set up a RideShare program, or an individual ready to make a change in your morning commute, all you have to do put your group together, and visit vanpool.com or contact Rideshare Rep, Kelli Davis at 205-824-8557 • Kelli.Davis@ehi.com

She’ll help you select a vehicle and turn your morning commute from a boring solo run to a fun community activity that gives you some cred in the sustainable energy community.

The American Wind Powered Car

Robert Yost of American Wind was one of the guest speakers at the Sustainable Energy themed Sip & Hatch back in June. Even in just the five minutes he had to describe what his technology does you could “get it”, but what’s not to get?!

 

Granted I’m not a physics major or an engineer, so I’m sure I don’t get it all, but I could still understand the basic premise.

 

Back in 2011 when North Alabama was ravaged by tornadoes and we all spent upwards of a week without power, Yost’s wife sat watching the blades on a fan turn from nothing more than the power of the breeze. “Why can’t we harness that power?” she asked her engineer husband, and his response was greater than she ever expected. He set out to make it happen.

 

The wind turbine that Yost has designed is a fraction of the size of the smallest wind turbines currently on the market, yet it creates more energy. Because of the reduced size it can be used in many more functions and it is safer than a standard wind turbine, with no risk to birds. The reduced size alone creates a number of new opportunities for travel, camping, and military use.

 

The wind turbine that Yost has designed doesn’t look much like the typical windmills or wind turbines. In fact, it looks much more like a jet engine turbine, and that’s because that’s what the design is patterned after. Working similar to an airplane wing or jet turbine, the wind on the backside of the turbine is moving at a much faster speed than the wind on the front side. This pushes the turbine to spin at a faster rate and keeps it spinning.
Some of the current opportunities that Yost is exploring include:

Using the wind to power a car – Yost has plans to use four of his small turbines on top of his hybrid car, increasing the power to the battery and decreasing the time between needed gas refueling or electric charges. Later in the fall he expects to begin a cross-country tour with his car, but before then he may break the World Record for the longest drive without needing to stop for fuel or recharge.

 

Don’t be misled, the car will still be a hybrid. It isn’t a perpetual motion machine. But the MPGs on this hybrid will exceed anything seen on a current gas/electric hybrid, creating a car that will rarely need refueling. Yost says that for the car to be completely wind-powered batteries would need to become super-efficient in comparison to those that currently exist. Wind can’t cover 100% of power needs of a car, especially when the car is sitting in traffic and not moving. Therefore, a hybrid is necessary.

 

American Wind - Wind-powered car
Wind-powered energy for travel needs – Yost has created a stand-alone version of his wind turbine that can be used for travel needs such as camping and hiking. This turbine can be put on a stand or hung from a tree where it will spin in the wind collecting energy to power small appliances while hiking and camping. This version may also have applications for military and other uses. Eventually, a number of these turbines could even be used to power an entire building.

 

Wind turbines for the military – Speaking of military use. The military currently sends out wind turbine kits to their people in the field along with lightweight foldable solar panels. The problem is that the current wind turbines are very large often creating a target for the opposing military to aim at. The turbines from American Wind are a fraction of the size and could replace the existing wind turbines providing power and increased safety for our military.

 

Wind to offset HVAC power – Yost is in talks with HVAC manufacturers to add his small turbines to the top of HVAC units. These turbines would work off the output from the HVAC unit itself (that air that is blown out of the top and sides of the units) creating power to offset the high cost of heating and cooling a home.

 

The potential uses for micro-wind turbines are endless, from wind turbine fields, to offsetting power, to combined uses with other energy sources for homes, hotels, and vehicles, as well as camping and military. Yost has already received one patent for his creation and is waiting on a second one. I imagine that will not be the last one he receives, just as I’m sure that the applications he’s already considered will not be the end of the many uses for his design.

 

Robert Yost reminds us that wind is not the end-all power source. He says that wind and sun, and wind and other power sources work in unison. We have the greatest efficiency when we combine multiple sources. In the case of a car it may be wind and gas, in the case of homes it may be wind and sun.

 

Of course there are detractors, there are those who say “but won’t it create a wind wall?” or “How can a wind turbine push a car against the wind faster than the wind is blowing?” To those Robert points out that it’s already been proven. You can read about it here. He points out that it’s about more than just one simple physics equation, it is multiple equations and it’s about approaching one thing from multiple angles.

 

Can American Wind break physics
In his lab I saw where Yost and his staff are testing whether they can “break physics.” They currently have a small USB fan propelling one their turbines. Within the next few weeks they plan to plug the USB fan directly into the turbine to see if they can power the fan with power from the turbine that the fan is creating power for. Wrap your head around that! They are skeptical that it will work, but looking forward to find out. I don’t know about you but I’m excited to see if it works! Will this be the next big thing? I don’t know but it sure is interesting to watch!