How your electric car could be ‘a virtual power station’

Posted: November 23, 2017 by oldbrew in Energy, Travel

Electric car charging station [credit: Wikipedia]

Or not – some say it’s too complex and would be too costly to set up. Others claim it could even make car batteries last longer by maintaining optimal charge levels as the ‘borrowed’ power would be returned.

The report below should perhaps start like this: ‘as a small number of people in the world’s richer countries take hefty government subsidies to buy expensive electric cars…’

As the world moves towards low-carbon electric cars, how are we going to power them all? – asks BBC News.

If electric cars really are the future, where is all the electricity to power them going to come from?

There are currently more than a billion vehicles on the road worldwide, 38 million of them registered in the UK. The overwhelming majority run on petrol or diesel.

But the world is changing.

Manufacturers are investing heavily in developing both hybrid and pure electric models to help meet tightening emissions standards.

Towns and cities want to impose restrictions on conventional cars to reduce pollution; and in the long term, some countries, including the UK and France, want to ban them altogether.

Although mass electrification will take time, experts agree the number of electric cars is almost certainly going to increase dramatically over the next few years. But will we be able to generate all the electricity that millions of battery-powered vehicles will require?

Here in the UK, National Grid has modelled a number of different scenarios, in an attempt to predict just how much extra power will be needed.

“By 2030 we could see as many as nine million electric vehicles on the road,” says the company’s energy insights manager, Marcus Stewart. “That would add around 5% to the annual energy demand on the electricity system. So it’s going to add demand, but maybe not as much as you might think.”

One reason the anticipated demand isn’t higher is because National Grid assumes that so-called “smart charging” will be widespread. The principle is relatively straightforward.

If millions of people charge their cars at the same time – for example when they come home from work – it will put heavy strain on the grid. But that doesn’t have to happen.

Continued here.

  1. spetzer86 says:

    Isn’t the power loss going through AC-DC conversion something like 20%? Wonder if they’re assuming everyone works only on first shift? Where / how do all the people living in apartments without garages that currently park on the street charge their cars? After a long cold spell with low winds and clouds, where does the power to charge everything back up come from?

  2. TinyCO2 says:

    The test of any great plan is not how well it works on a good day but how badly is works at the other end. While electric cars are not impossible to consider, they have massive hurdles to overcome. Electric cars are more unreliable than a conventional car. At the moment the bulk of users will have another car available, have a garage and probably be bright enough to manage their battery life without too much trouble. But what about when everyone uses them? What about when there is a substancial number of aging batteries in use? What about the shortened life of a battery out in the cold and wet? Will there be a rash of charging cars setting fire to the house? How will firemen deal with car fires? Will there be dozens breaking down on the motorway or somewhere dodgy? Imagine the ‘smart’ network draining your car so you run out unexpectedly or can’t make the journey you wanted to? You won’t be able to carry a can of electricity to limp to the nearest charging station. I’ve lived with an old, unreliable car because it was the cheapest option to do so. Who would choose to buy a new unreliable car unless the alternative is public transport or a bike?

  3. tom0mason says:

    “‘as a small number of people in the world’s richer countries take hefty government subsidies to buy expensive electric cars…’

    It is not that difficult to convert a vehicle engine into a real generator.
    Why do we not all do it? Because we already pay for an ‘on demand’ electricity supply!
    However for a large stash of tax-payers’ money (it’s not government money!), I’m sure some rich types could convert their high prestige automobiles into part-time generators.

  4. oldbrew says:

    Sounds like an expensive way of juggling with electrical power, not producing anything. A bit desperate?

  5. peterandnen says:

    Tom smart thinking! There are more gigawatts driving around than all the power stations put together, right? So, a smart system could use the connected parked hybrid vehicles to balance the GRID!

  6. Phoenix44 says:

    This sounds like one of those great studies where people have not actually looked at how cars are used but come up instead with a “model” that allows them to show their idea isn’t lunacy.

    KPMG did something similar to justify HS2, ignoring the way actual people work and have meetings in favour of a model that showed that saving 10 minutes here and there was actually massively valuable to business people – basically ignoring the use of laptops and do work when on the slightly slower train.

    No doubt we could all charge our cars at different times, but we aren’t going to.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    It isn’t a power station, it is a virtual battery. What you take out must be generated the first time, then generated again to replace it. Good charger, battery, inverter systems can “only” lose a bit over 10%. real life low bidder systems easily lose 20%. So you also need about 15% more generated per charge discharge cycle. you have two of those, so call it 30% lost.

    So you will need to provide about 230% of power desired at the car, but at two different times.

    BTW,I have a kW inverter that clips to my car battery for emergency power. I can run the Dieselengine at idle for days on one tank. That IS a power station, though a small one. Cost was about $90 all up. I travel with a $25 little brother of it.

    I have used it dozens of times.

  8. oldbrew says:

    Battery claim: 500 mile range, 1 minute recharge, lower cost, better safety…

    Fisker has filed patents for solid-state batteries
    The company expects production-ready batteries around 2023

    Nov 13th 2017

    It seems that we’re on the cusp of a solid-state battery revolution. The latest company to announce progress in developing the new type of battery is Fisker. It has filed patents for solid-state batteries and it expects the batteries to be produced on a mass scale around 2023.

    Though Fisker is a very small car company that is currently taking deposits for its upcoming EMotion electric sedan, there are reasons to believe that the company could fulfill this promise. One of the members of the battery-development team was a co-founder of Sakti3, a company that formed to develop new batteries and announced its research into solid-state technology back in 2011. That company was purchased by Dyson, the vacuum cleaner company, which also intends on producing electric cars that AutoExpress reports will feature solid-state batteries in 2020. Toyota is also expected to have solid-state batteries just ahead of Fisker around 2022.

    The reason all these companies are working on developing solid-state batteries is because they present a whole host of advantages over what you’ll find in today’s phones, computers and cars. The two big ones are greater energy density and rapid charging times. Fisker claims the batteries it’s developing have an energy density 2.5 times that of current batteries, and they should be capable of providing a 500-mile driving range. The company also says the batteries could be recharged in as little as a minute. Both claims are similar to past claims from others, including Sakti3. Other benefits include lower estimated cost than conventional lithium-ion batteries as well as very little risk of fires or explosions.

  9. Bitter&twisted says:

    Is it just me but whenever I see the word “smart” I automatically think “scam”?

    [reply] living up to your ‘name’ 😎

  10. Stuart Brown says:

    So… For similar performance to a Tesla 3 that’s a 100kWh battery? And to charge it in a minute from a notionally 400v supply in a minute would be 15,000A?

    Assuming you can lift the cable, can I still stand round the corner, please?

    I think I’d rather charge it at home and take 1000 minutes (17 hours) to do it while I’m watching the tele and asleep!

  11. Rob says:


    Virtually all new medium to large scale housing developments are high density, the garages are not big enough for the cars to fit in and allow the driver to exit other than through the sun roof. Visit any of these developments in the evening and you will find cars parked partly on the pavement for almost the entirety of the paved area within these estates, each dwelling has a maximum of 2 parking places be it a 2 or 4 bed dwelling.

    Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to how these vehicles which have to park on the pavement ( as there is no other space available) will be charged. In my daughters case there are 2 adults and 2 children each have their own car.

  12. All that stored electricity in a car battery means is that you get up to go to work and find your car’s been drained overnight because someone has been doing their washing. Only a politician could think this ‘idea’ up.
    All politicians from today should be required to drive EVs with NO petrol backup – I’d love to see them try!
    As for AI cars – forget it at least for 100 years. Just where is the value in sitting bored in a vehicle and yet having to be totally alert at all times for that split when AI has fatally ‘misjudged’ something? Like the guy that was splatted into the side of white lorry misjudged by AI to be sky. Even airline pilots find modern flying tedious for similar reasons. Yet flying a plane (or a large cargo vessel) using AI is a doddle compared to AI in a car. Add to this dirt or a spider in any of the sensors or cameras will be catastrophic.

  13. Unless batteries could be 100 times lighter (‘solid state’ ones won’t get anywhere near this and suffer all the diasadvantages of Lithium – except perhaps fire) with the same or greater capacity, no one with intelligence should go near the idea. Sadly Elon Musk seems to lack this rather vital gift. Anyway he’s already spent all his investors’ money on space rockets (so maybe the lack of intelligence lies in his investors – he’s had the fun of burning a few billion dollars just for the fun of it!). I’d guess Fisker is just the next con artist on the block.

  14. oldbrew says:

    From the post:
    When the grid needs extra power, it can draw very small amounts from each individual vehicle. When energy is abundant, it can top them up again. Users will get paid for the electricity they provide.

    If thousands of cars are connected together, then the amount of energy given back to the grid can be substantial, and it can be varied on a second-by-second basis.
    . . .
    It is a complicated system, and Nissan has been testing it on a small scale at Cranfield for more than a year.

    The idea of draining the whole battery looks a bit unlikely.

  15. ivan says:

    The elephant in the room with anything to do with electric cars is the actual real world amount of battery power needed to get any realistic driving distance and the amount of electricity required to recharge them in a reasonable time – 5 minutes max.

    Not one manufacturer gives these figures for real world conditions nor takes into consideration the fact that most, if not all, electricity supply cable from the grid transformer to the premises will need upgrading to prevent overheating and burn out – you would think the national grid would know this but most of these pronouncements are mad by MBAs and marketing wonks rather than real engineers )do they even have any of those any more?).

  16. The future of electric cars lies in having a generator (fuel cell or nuclear device) in the vehicle like a diesel-electric locomotive. Batteries which just store energy are no answer unless you call a nuclear device with several years life in interchangeable fuel rods a battery.

  17. gymnosperm says:

    An electric car is not a “virtual battery”. It IS a battery, and that is all it is unless it is like a Chevy Volt/Bolt which uses internal combustion to create electricity for a mostly electric drive train. The model for this is a diesel electric locomotive.

    Line loss through the grid is between 23 and 30% in the U.S. In the UK it is a tenth of that…unless you choose to include DC to AC conversion at ~20%.

    Russia, China, and India are large geographically. They are going to be in the US range of line loss.

    Superconductivity and fusion are the best options.

  18. oldbrew says:

    Another likely problem with this is that peak times for electricity use aren’t going to match with times when most EVs are not in use and available for the electricity grid to borrow from.

  19. Margaret Smith says:

    I see emissions reduction/elimination and electric cars as intended to get us peasants out of personal transport altogether. So non-availability or expense of electricity is not a problem if only the elite have cars.
    If we can’t move about freely we can, more easily, be controlled.
    I am very cynical as you can see.