NEWS Forbes: China: Electric Vehicle-​​To-​​Grid Technology Could Solve Renewable Energy Storage Problem


China could use an expected boom in elec­tric vehi­cles to sta­bi­lize a grid that depends heav­ily on wind and solar energy, offi­cials from an influ­en­tial Chi­nese gov­ern­ment plan­ning agency said Mon­day in Wash­ing­ton D.C.

In the future we think the elec­tric­ity vehi­cle could be the big con­tri­bu­tion for power sys­tems’ sta­bil­ity, reli­a­bil­ity,” said Wang Zhongy­ing, direc­tor of the China National Renew­able Energy Cen­ter and deputy direc­tor gen­eral of the Energy Research Insti­tute at China’s National Devel­op­ment and Reform Commission.

The Chi­nese do not see the cost of renew­able energy as a sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cle to its wide­spread adop­tion, Wang told a lunchtime gath­er­ing at Resources for the Future, a non-​​partisan envi­ron­men­tal research orga­ni­za­tion in the Capitol.

The biggest chal­lenge for renew­able energy devel­op­ment is not eco­nomic issues, it is tech­ni­cal issues. Vari­abil­ity. Vari­abil­ity is the biggest issue for us,” said Wang, who explained vari­abil­ity like so: “When we have wind we have elec­tric­ity; when we have sun we have elec­tric­ity. No wind and no sun, no electricity.”

But if the Chi­nese deploy enough elec­tric vehicles—which could mean up to five mil­lion new elec­tric vehi­cles in Bei­jing alone—the array of dis­trib­uted bat­ter­ies could col­lect energy when the sun is shin­ing or the wind is blow­ing and feed it back to the grid when the skies are dark and the air is still.

Wang directed a study released this week, the “China 2050 High Renew­able Energy Pen­e­tra­tion Sce­nario and Roadmap Study,”  which plots a route for China to dras­ti­cally reduce reliance on coal, derive 85 per­cent of elec­tric­ity from renew­ables, and cut green­house gas emis­sions 60 per­cent by mid-​​century .

The study gets there by rely­ing on what has become known as Vehicle-​​to-​​Grid tech­nol­ogy, which has emerged as almost a sur­prise side effect of inex­pen­sive solar pan­els and clean-​​energy poli­cies in places like Cal­i­for­nia and Germany.

The Chi­nese have been watch­ing the same devel­op­ments, the report reveals, as clean energy experts in the West like Daniel Kam­men, who described unex­pected effects of the solar-​​energy boom last week in an appear­ance at the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago.

“Mas­sive amounts of solar power com­ing online in Cal­i­for­nia, in Bangladesh, in Ger­many, in Italy, has meant the world has been turned on its head,” Kam­men said.

Now in places with the green­est energy poli­cies, there is a huge peak in after­noon power on the grid, exactly where power used to be the most expen­sive and the dirt­i­est,” he said. “We actu­ally want peo­ple to charge up now in the late after­noon. It sounds very chaotic, it’s not what we thought at all, but in fact it rep­re­sents what low-​​cost solar is now bring­ing to many parts of the world.”

Elec­tric­ity con­sumers can store this abun­dant after­noon energy until sup­ply goes down and demand goes up and then sell it back to the grid. And if they own elec­tric vehi­cles, they needn’t buy extra equip­ment to do so.

You can put a big bat­tery in the base­ment of your home or busi­ness, but you can also have your elec­tric vehi­cle, with its mobile stor­age sys­tem that you drive around and use as your car. They’re called Nis­san Leafs, they’re called Chevy Volts, they’re called Tes­las, they’re called Priuses, they have a vari­ety of names. And now you can sell power back to the grid.”

An elec­tric car with a range of 250 km can store 40 kWh of elec­tric­ity, Wang said. Five mil­lion of those cars could sta­bi­lize Beijing’s grid to coun­ter­act vari­a­tions in wind and sun, he said, and the num­ber of auto­mo­biles in Bei­jing is expected to blos­som from six mil­lion now to 10 mil­lion by 2030.

If the range of elec­tric cars dou­bles to 500 km, he added, they will store enough elec­tric­ity that only two mil­lion will be needed.

The cost of elec­tric vehicles—about $40,000 in China, accord­ing to Wang—remains a hur­dle, but China may slash the price by sub­si­diz­ing vehi­cle batteries.

China’s High Renew­able Energy Roadmap resem­bles sev­eral U.S. Dept. of Energy stud­ies that have plot­ted the route for the U.S. to reduce green­house gas emis­sions more than 80 per­cent by 2050.

The U.S. stud­ies antic­i­pate that solar and wind will pro­vide half of U.S. power needs by 2050, using pumped hydro and compressed-​​air stor­age sys­tems to off­set variability.

Bulk bat­tery sys­tems were deemed too expen­sive to be viable, said Samuel Bald­win, chief sci­ence offi­cer in DOE’s Office of Energy Effi­ciency and Renew­able Energy, but the U.S. stud­ies did not antic­i­pate the “dis­trib­uted stor­age” option offered by elec­tric vehicles.

I expect that bat­tery stor­age like the Chi­nese study, with elec­tric vehi­cles or sta­tion­ary stor­age, is going to play a more impor­tant role,” Bald­win said.

It remains uncer­tain, how­ever, how impor­tant a role it will play in China. The country’s first pri­or­ity is eco­nomic devel­op­ment, said Li Jun­feng, direc­tor gen­eral of China’s National Cen­ter for Cli­mate Change Strat­egy and Inter­na­tional Coop­er­a­tion, also an arm of the National Devel­op­ment and Reform Commission.

By 2049, the cen­ten­nial year of the People’s Repub­lic of China, the Chi­nese want to achieve a stan­dard of liv­ing com­pa­ra­ble to the most devel­oped countries.

China wants to be among the devel­oped coun­tries by 2050,” Li said. “That’s the first priority.”

China’s High Renew­able Energy Roadmap is a “vision­ary sce­nario,” accord­ing to Joanna Lewis, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and inter­na­tional affairs at George­town Uni­ver­sity. But it remains to be seen whether China’s Polit­buru shares the vision of its National Devel­op­ment and Reform Commission.

We hope our study can influ­ence the government’s 13th five-​​year plan and 2050 energy strat­egy,” said Wang. “That’s very important.”

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