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EV hype needs the smart grid

16 April 2009
EV hype needs the smart grid

We need a 'smart' grid if we hope to get the kind of solutions in electric vehicles that we've seen hyped over the last month or so.

Maybe it's just where I'm living (London) but the explosion of Electric Vehicle news might be a flash in the pan or might be a harbinger for things to come.

The first chance people may have to participate en masse in the energy system may not be as producers but as storers of energy. That's right, the holy grail of energy production - STORAGE. In the form of lots of batteries in electrified vehicles.

Let's work backwards over the past month or so:

What is behind all this? In the Boris and Brown cases, political jockeying, certainly.

But there is also a classic innovation cluster effect happening now.

  1. The enabling technologies 'smart grid' interest, from Accenture to Zigbee, on new collaborations and services.
  2. EVs are the storage for intermittent sources of energy (renewables like wind and solar) that wouldn't be possible without the smart grid.
  3. Financing: smart grid is included in the US stimulus package, and globally focused 'green' stimulus is increasingly the focus.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will utilities get in the game and deliver EVs themselves (as in Ireland), in partnership with OEMs? Or will EV service companies sit in the middle managing the EV's interaction with the distribution utility (ie: Better Place which owns the battery and service plan for mileage like your mobile phone, which aims to deploy EVs at an ambitious rate, starting in Israel, Denmark, Hawaii to name a few.)

The prize (for mass solutions to climate change) is still up for grabs... and the smart grid is clearly key to this opportunity.

Let's remind ourselves why this hype has a long way to go before EVs are standard. There are over 600 million cars on the road in the world today, and the IMF as reported in the Economist suggests this number will grow to 2.9 billion in 2050. Boris Johnson is aiming for 100,000 cars in London in 6 years (2015). Even if 10 other mayors aim for the same, for a total of 1 million cars by 2015, at this rate we'd be waiting 600 years to replace today's demand (not to mention the demand for vehicles in 2609!)

In any case, we really can't afford 2.9 billion cars using today's technology. Already, emissions from road transport are growing fastest among end user sectors and by some estimates are 4.66 Gt Co2e of emissions today (WRI). (We must stabilise emissions at 2 tonnes per person in 2050, which is about 20 Gt globally.)

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