Monday kicks off EcoLust week here at RideLust where we’ll be exploring the exciting, “lustable” side of environmentally friendly automotive technology and no – this is not a joke or a paid corporate spot. To kick things off, part-time RideLust correspondent and full-time hippie Alex Kiersten provides coverage of his exclusive behind-the-infrastructure tour of Southern California Edison, a utility company at the forefront of EV technology.
Electric vehicles, whether all-battery or plug-in-hybrid, are coming, and automakers and utilities are scrambling to make sure that the infrastructure is there to greet them when they land. Want to get a Chevy Volt? Where are you going to plug it in, and how will it affect your electric bill? One utility company, Southern California Edison, is on the cutting edge of EV infrastructure technology, having been in the game since importing some “Griffon” electric vans in 1987 for testing. President Obama recently toured the facility to see what was up, and so perhaps it’s no surprise that Edison invited Ridelust (always interested in the world of green car tech) to tour their Electric Vehicle Testing Facility in Pomona to show us what their vision for an EV-friendly world would look like.
Edison currently has the largest private EV fleet in the world, with 300 Toyota RAV/4 NiMH electric vehicles dating back from the late 1990s. They also have a significant number of hybrid and plug-in-hybrid vehicles, including large cherrypickers. Additionally, 16% of the electricity that Edison provides to customers is sourced from renewable energy generating facilities, like wind and hydroelectric power. But it’s their vision for integrating EVs into the grid that is really going to be important.
It’s not the sexiest subject in the world of automobiles, but honestly, figuring out how and when you’re going to plug in your hybrid or battery electric vehicle (BEV) could be a real hassle if utility companies weren’t sorting this all out now. To fully quick-charge a BEV from empty to full using a residential 240V outlet consumes nearly 10kW, which is like the total daily consumption of your average house. (The more powerful Tesla roadster consumes nearly 19kW.) During peak hours, where electricity is the most expensive, that could add up quickly, negating the “runs on pennies” arguments for BEVs.
Enter Edison – they want to install “SmartGrid” meters that interfaces with your EV or hybrid, allowing the customer to draw electricity during off-peak hours. They’re also working with other utilities (there are more than 3,000 in the US) and automakers to standardize the process. For example, the universal EV charging plug (ASE J1772, if you really want to know) is in the pipeline.
A key to this is what Edison calls the “Garage of the Future,” a system that pairs the smart meter to a large battery and other power sources like photovoltaic solar panels. The idea is that the same lithium-ion batteries that are emerging as the favored EV battery could be used to store energy at your house, allowing you to use some off-peak power or “free” solar power when you really need it. By sharing this battery technology between automakers and utilities, the cost of these admittedly expensive batteries will hopefully come down as economies of scale come into play. What does that mean for you? It means that you get cheap, off-peak energy when you really need it, and the power grid as a whole is much less stressed out (no more brownouts!). It will also lessen the impact of all the new EVs that will stress the grid when they start plugging in.
One of the reasons that Edison invited us press types down is that preparing for the coming of plug-in vehicles is a two-way street. They need to gauge demand and reach out to customers. If a plug-in vehicle is in your future and you live in Southern California, jump on over to sce.com for a survey to help Edison get ready.
[Source: Southern California Edison. Images: Copyright 2009 Alex Kierstein unless otherwise noted.]