When was the last time you talked to your electric power company? I mean, really sat down and had a good chat about when they should send you power and when they shouldn't? Have you told them when you'd like to have the air conditioner shut off and let the home warm up because no one will be home? If you haven't had this talk with your utility, you're not alone. Not by a long shot. In fact, figuring out how to get customers to even start having this kind of communication is a huge challenge for the thousands of utilities across the U.S. and this challenge was the topic of the seminar titled Utility Issues & Opportunities at the recent Austin Alt Car expo.

The panel dealt with vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-home transmission and distribution issues and featured Southern California Edison's Ed Kjaer, Austin Energy's Mark Kapner and EPRI's Arindam Maitra. Find out how these three people and their organizations are getting ready to get you and your car to talk to the grid on a regular basis by following us after the jump.

Utilities are islands at the moment, and what we're talking about it moving to a cell phone model.
Southern California Edison's Ed Kjaer started the discussion with a good 15-minute overview of the situation today and what the utilities are looking at for the next few years with PHEVs. Right now, he said, there is a very passive relationship between customers and the utilities. They only hear from us when the power goes out and we only hear from them when we get the monthly bill. The smart grid will completely upset this model and will also make figuring out your personalized energy use a bit more complicated. Most appliances don't move he said, much less cross county lines regularly. "Utilities are islands at the moment, and what we're talking about it moving to a cell phone model," he said.

Austin Energy's Mark Kapner framed his discussion around these main questions:

  • How many PHEVs can the power system accommodate with additional generating capacity?
  • How does the replacement of conventional ICE vehicles by PHEVs affect greenhouse gas emissions?
  • How will large-scale deployment of PHEVs effect the grid?

His numbers predict that the U.S. grid could handle a maximum of 158 million PHEVs today (assuming a maximum 2 kW charging rate). That would potentially displace 6.5 million barrels per day, about 71 percent of the total gasoline consumption. These are astounding numbers, and give an idea of why so many people are so excited about plug-ins. Kapner's presentation made PHEVs look even better, though. A PHEV charged from a coal-fired plant emits about 160 grams of CO2 per km, which isn't great but isn't terrible either. A PHEV that gets its energy from a natural gas-fired plant is much, much cleaner (about 78 percent, to be specific).

So, what are the downsides? Well, there are over 3,000 separate utilities in the U.S., and finding common ground that all of these organizations can agree on won't be easy. There may be many automakers, but there are far, far more power companies. The takeaway message: we need unified standards so that any car that a customer buys will work correctly no matter where she lives.

EPRI's Arindam Maitra, from EPRI, broke down the energy needed to charge up a plug-in hybrid. The 2kW charging rate that Kapner used for his estimates is about how much it takes to power seven plasma TVs, he said, and it's not exactly small potatoes to power 158mx7 plasma TVs. It's doable, but we need to remember that smart charging is not just off-peak charging, it's a better way to optimize the load.

Listen here (55 min):


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