The amount of electricity produced for the grid must be matched very closely with demand. There are large swings in demand from hot summer days when demand is high to mild spring and fall nights when demand is low.
To match demand with supply requires that a certain amount of power be constantly produced, the so called base load, and this must be supplemented with additional power sources for peak demand times. The cost is higher for electricity generated only intermittently. To encourage use of electrical energy during off peak times and discourage use during peak times some areas vary the cost of electricity with the season and time of day.
If massive batteries were available the power production could be smoothed out and only base load would be needed. Excess power produced at night could be stored for use when peak demand occurred. Alas such massive grid connected batteries don’t exist. Or do they?
Instead of a few massive batteries for a metropolitan area, how about 10s or 100s of thousands , even millions of smaller batteries all interconnected to the grid.
Enter electric vehicles as battery storage devices for the grid. The idea is called V2G, for Vehicle to Grid. Electric car batteries are connected to the grid for charging and this is especially true at night, so they immediately help to level demand by charging off peak. An electric vehicle owner could charge at night at home then drive to work in the morning. There, the driver would reconnect to the grid and charge or discharge as needed. Smart outlets controlled by computers could simply shuttle power to and from the individual vehicles as needed, essentially crowd sourcing energy storage and delivery.
Especially valuable would be plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles. In addition the the energy stored in their batteries, they could act as stand alone generators, supplementing power production with their engines which are easily capable of providing electric current to the gird.
Plug-in hybrids are becoming increasingly popular. Cars like the Chevy Volt operate on a “dual fuel” basis. They can run on gasoline stored in a tank or on electricity stored in a battery. Such vehicles, when connected would provide power to or take power from the grid as needed. Pricing would be computer controlled to pay a premium to power providers at peak demand times and charge appropriately for electricity delivered to vehicle owneers as needed.
Although the idea for V2G was originally planned as a method of covering the need for peak demand in urban areas, the same idea could be used to smooth production system wide. It could be an elegant way to compensate for the intermittency of sustainable energy supplies such as wind and solar.
Electric companies of the future may not be the massive monolithic power providers of today, but rather simply brokers for grid distribution of a diffuse set of suppliers. Large wind turbines, small solar arrays and even the family car parked in the garage, all contributing through a computer managed network.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt