Smart Cars Are Here, But Where Are Our Smart Grids To Charge Them?

The November 9th print edition of Canadian Business had an article by Heather Li on “Charging Cars for Pennies …” that had an amazing calculation that, if it were more widely known, could totally change the way we look at smart cars. By using wasted power, smart grids can charge electric cars for 42 cents a night!

Let’s see … in a fuel efficient car with gas prices at about $3 a gallon in the US and over $4 a gallon in Canada, you’re paying at least $30 in the US and at least $40 in Canada for a tank of gas that will get you the same 400km to 500km of travel that an electric car with a high-performance lithium-ion battery pack will get you … which could cost you a mere $0.42 to recharge. Now, it’s true that the batteries will eventually need to be replaced … but as the new battery packs have an estimated life of about 250,000 km, you might replace the smart car first!

How could we do it so cheap? It has to do with the fact that while our power demands fluctuate throughout a 24 hour cycle, power production does not. Water doesn’t stop flowing, nuclear reactions don’t stop half way through the chain, and it’s just not practical to shut down coal plants. As a result, much of the energy produced at night goes to waste. In Ontario, the difference between how much is used and how much is produced in off-peak night hours is often 10,000 mega-watts — which is potentially enough power to support one million electric vehicles! And, as you guessed, the power companies lose money on this production (which they make up for by charging a rate for energy consumption that covers the average total cost of production over a 24 hour period, and not just the cost of the energy you use). But if we had a smart grid, that utilized new smart meters, it could be programmed to charge our smart cars during times of peak excess energy availability and the power companies could charge us a fraction of a penny per kWh (or just a few dollars per MWh, instead of the average consumer price of $27.59 per MWh in Canada in November) and still make a profit.

Bring on the Smart Grids!

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