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.
“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.”