I posted a couple of visions of garages of the future recently.
The first vision was of an internet café style ‘park and surf while you charge’ kind of thing. Looked cool, not a bad first stab, but on further examination – it wasn’t it.
The second vision is an abandoned, moss grown relic. The gist of this vision is that with modern battery ranges of 200 miles + and given that 99.5% of car journeys are less than 100 miles – all we need is some destination charging, in supermarket and public car parks, motorway services, that kind of stuff for long journeys and when we get caught short – and for the most part we’ll be able to plug in at home. We won’t need garages.
This raises the very important question – can the grid take it? Can we switch the entire energy consumption of UK cars – from petrol stations to the grid? By the way the combined power output of the UK car fleet is bigger than the total power output of the grid. So it might be a problem.
We crunched some numbers and came up with this:
In the UK we drive 250 Billion miles in our cars every year…! Seriously.
It’s reasonable to assume that an electric car can do 5,000 miles on one MWh of electricity.
Therefore we would need an additional 50TWh of electricity annually, to power the UK’s cars – if they were all electric.
In 2006 total demand on the grid was 404TWh, so the extra 50TWh we’d need would amount to a 12% increase in grid delivered power. Just 12%. That’s actually four years of annual UK demand growth to give it some perspective. Not so much.
It would take very roughly 10,000 of today’s turbines to produce this 50 TWh and so power all our cars. It’ll be less then that by the time it happened of course because turbines keep getting bigger and more efficient.
In the process we’d save 69 Million tonnes of CO2 per year – that’s 60% of UK road transport emissions and 12% of total UK CO2 emissions. No small achievement.
I was pretty staggered by the results. There are after all nearly 30 million cars in the UK (that’s more cars than homes by the way, about 25% more) and we drive that crazy 250 Billion miles – there was a good chance, I thought, that the extra power demand would be more than the grid could cope with. But an extra 12% is well within the realms of the possible.
It’s worth bearing in mind that most car charging will probably be overnight, the time of lowest grid demand, and therefore we can probably deliver this extra 12% volume without a need to increase the actual capacity of the grid. And such a large overnight load could result in a considerable smoothing of the peaks and troughs of demand on the grid and in the process make the grid more efficient cost and CO2 wise.
And an electric car fleet for the UK could also help with the smoothing of intermittent renewables like wind energy, because for the most part car charging will be non-critical loads, non-time sensitive that is. 30 Million cars could act like vast distributed energy storage system, able to take power when the wind blows and able to manage without when it doesn’t. It could even give power back to the grid at times of need.
All interesting stuff. But one thing is clear – the idea that we could all drive electric cars, powered by existing infrastructure – the grid, looks very (very) doable.
And the alternative vision, of the oil companies – building a new hydrogen infrastructure and for us all to keep on visiting their garages to fill our cars up (for which we’d need three times as many windmills and three times as much additional electricity to achieve the same thing by the way) – is looking more like our second vision of garages of the future – a moss grown relic, though not yet abandoned… 🙂