I’ve recently begun investigating the possibility of having a solar energy system installed in my next home, and it’s interesting to see the reaction of some of the power companies to this facet of “going green”.
Quite frankly, it seems some of them pay only lip service to “buying back” the power from home solar generators, with the possibility of “one-for- one” buy- backs being complicated by formulae that reduce the buy- back price to less than half what you pay when you’re buying from the electricity company.
So what has this got to do with my company fleet, you ask? Well apart from the obvious one of “greening” the planet, and cutting down on costly power generation, quite a lot, actually!
That’s because I’ve just received a release from Chrysler about research it’s been undertaking with a fleet of Voyager people movers, designed to investigate whether electric car owners could sell the power they don’t use back to electricity companies.
The research is investigating using fleets of electric cars to store surplus electricity that has been generated during low demand periods, and then draw down on the reserves during spikes in demand.
Owners would be paid for the use of their vehicles, and be able to benefit from selling and buying electricity at the best prices. Chrysler says the whole process would be totally automated, and would mean that an EV would make its owner money when not in use, while always ensuring the vehicle had sufficient power to be ready for use.
In petrol or diesel car terms, it would be like car owners being able to sell back fuel to petrol stations when they are not using the cars, selling it when the petrol price was at its highest, and buying it back when it was at its lowest, allowing petrol stations to store their fuel in your car while they waited for other car owners to buy the fuel – all while paying you for the service while your car sat in your garage or car park!
Among the scenarios under study is reduced reliance on “spinning reserves” – the expensive practice of having huge generators at the ready to balance spikes in energy demand.
If EVs were linked together in sufficient numbers, and their combined surplus power was sold to electricity companies, they could conceivably offset demand surges. The expectation is that tapping such a reservoir would cut costs for power companies, while also putting money into the pockets of EV owners.
Similarly, a mini-grid composed of EVs would enable “peak-shaving,” which would see EV owners draw from their own power reserves during those hours when demand for electricity – along with its price – is highest.
The project also considers the impact of cloudy days on solar panel function. EVs could provide a ray of sunshine in the form of supplemental power, a process known as “generation-firming.”
I like that last part – but for the rest, I’m afraid Chrysler’s project is going to be stillborn in New Zealand, simply because the power companies, while they’ll no doubt pay lip service to it, won’t come to the party where it really counts – by paying fair prices for the electricity they’re buying from consumers.
Self- driving cars
We were having a chat in the office the other day, and I recounted my experience with the new Mercedes E- Class cars, and steering assistance programme – the first step towards a car that steers itself ( see page 18).
A couple of companies, notably Volvo and Honda, are getting close to producing vehicles that will be able to drive themselves – or, rather, to follow line astern behind a “lead” vehicle, without you having to get involved.
And that led to the inevitable, “Does that mean I’ll be able to let the car drive me home if I’ve had one too many to drink? ”
But quick as a flash he answered his own question, “I suppose I’ll still be in charge of the car, just as I would be if my daughter was driving me home on her learner’s.”
Common sense prevailed.