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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Horsepower v cash cows

The Economist
May 17, 2011

AS IF petrolheads did not already have reasons aplenty to hate electric vehicles. With oil prices rising inexorably (the recent dip notwithstanding) drivers of these silent, soulless battery-powered contraptions are set to look smugly on as gas-guzzlers burn a hole in their owners' pockets. Now, adding insult to injury, research suggests that electric cars might actually make a profit for their owners.

At present, in order to meet sudden surges in demand, power companies have to bring additional generators online at a moment's notice, a procedure that is both expensive and inefficient. If there were enough electric vehicles around, though, a fair number would be bound to be plugged in and recharging at any given time. Why not rig this idle fleet so that, when demand for electricity spikes, they stop drawing current from the grid and instead start pumping it back?

The idea, known as vehicle-to-grid (V2G), sounds great in theory. But what about in practice? To find out, Willett Kempton and Nathaniel Pearre, of the University of Delaware, has for the past three years been running a fleet of seven electric cars linked up to his local electricity company's servers by a wireless system that monitors their activity, in order to predict when each car is likely to be available as a power supply.
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