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PG&E First to Commit to Buying Used Plug-In Batteries

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  • Felix Kramer
    PG&E s Sven Thesen, Supervisor for Clean Air Transportation, says the utility expects to buy batteries from plug-in cars (PHEVs and EVs) for secondary
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 11, 2007
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      PG&E's Sven Thesen, Supervisor for Clean Air Transportation, says the
      utility expects to buy batteries from plug-in cars (PHEVs and EVs)
      for secondary stationery uses, and he shows a reporter how it works.
      This first demonstration used a stock Prius battery, which is
      designed for power, not energy: current Prius conversions have
      batteries that make available 15-30 times as much energy.

      PG&E continues to be a PHEV trailblazer: on April 9, the company
      became the first utility to conduct a public demonstration of a
      rudimentary "vehicle-to-grid" (V2G) setup. (at the Alternative Energy
      Solutions Summit, held at AMD headquarters in Sunnyvale -- see video
      links at <http://www.calcars.org/audio-video.html>.) Last September,
      the utility sent a mailer promoting plug-in hybrids to its five
      million customers.

      Plug-in cars will provide a more efficient alternative to what
      utilities already do when they pump water up into high reservoirs at
      night to be used during the day. This means we'll have a new answer
      to the question, "what happens to all those old batteries?" We can
      say, "when they're still working fine, but a bit less efficient,
      there's a way to keep them working for years to come." (Batteries
      don't fail; they degrade slowly. Years from now, when your PHEV's
      25-mile range battery takes you only 20 miles, you'll be able to
      trade it in for a new one, knowing that your old battery will
      continue providing benefits! And their relatively benign raw
      materials will be recycled many years later.)

      This is all part of the larger V2G picture. Utilities can start
      building new business models based on the distributed energy storage
      system they've always wanted. V2G will turn intermittent night-time
      wind power into a reliable 24-hour energy source. It will "valley
      fill" and "peak shave" utility load curves (and by enabling more
      efficient use of generating plants, we might all get lower monthly
      bills). And it will bring a revenue stream back to plug-in car owners
      who allow the utilities to tap their batteries for spinning reserves
      and regulation services. All the technologies needed to make this
      happen already exist. We hope other utilities will join in confirming
      their intention to buy older batteries down the road.

      This announcement also bolsters current discussions about third-party
      battery warranties that could motivate carmakers to start building
      PHEVs before they are sure the batteries will last the lifetime of
      the car. And along with the "Cash-Back PHEV" concept popularized by
      Federal Energy Regulatory Commissionier Jon Wellinghoff (see
      CalCars-News Archive), by further improving the already favorable
      Lifetime Total Cost of Ownership advantage of PHEVs, it can be the
      basis for enhanced state and federal Executive Orders and public and
      private fleet commitments.

      The exclusive story appears in the "Green Wombat" blog
      <http://blogs.business2.com/greenwombat/> of Business2.0, a Time
      Warner publication, written by Todd Woody, an assistant managing
      editor at Business 2.0 magazine; Woody is the former business editor
      of the San Jose Mercury News.

      FULL REPORT (you can comment at URL)
      PG&E's Battery Power Plans Could Jump Start Electric Car Market
      Business 2.0 - San Francisco,CA,USA

      California utility PG&E has given Green Wombat an exclusive look at
      new technology that could provide a big boost to both the nascent
      electric car market and renewable energy production. In the coming
      years, the utility plans to buy thousands of plug-in hybrid and
      electric car batteries once they've outlived their usefulness for
      transportation and install them in the basements of office towers and
      at electrical substations. The batteries will store green energy and
      and be used to cut peak demand for expensive - and greenhouse
      gas-emitting - electricity. On a recent morning, Green Wombat went
      down to a sub-basement below PG&E's (PCG) San Francisco headquarters
      where the utility parks its plug-in hybrid Toyota (TM) and Mercedes
      fuel-cell car. Against one wall a nickel metal hydride battery
      salvaged from a wrecked Prius sat on a metal cart attached to an
      inverter that converts the battery's DC power into AC power. (In the
      photos the battery is on middle tray, the inverter on the top left.)
      The setup is plugged into an electrical meter, a fluorescent light
      and a portable heater. "The meter is spinning anti-clockwise right
      now," says Sven Thesen, PG&E's supervisor for clean air
      transportation. "That means we have energy coming out of the building
      and powering the meter. PG&E is paying for this right now." A minute
      later the meter begins to spin in the opposite direction and the
      lights and heater come to life as the 1.3 kilowatt/hour Prius battery
      uploads electricity into the power grid. "if we put these batteries
      in the distribution system and then charge them up at night, we don't
      have to pack as much electricity through that distribution system to
      feed this particular building," says Thesen enthusiastically.

      Electric vehicle batteries generally retain 80 percent of their
      capacity even after they're no longer good for powering cars. Thesen
      envisions a time in the near future when banks of EV batteries are
      charged at night with electricity produced by wind farms, which tend
      to generate the most power in the evening when demand is the lowest.
      Normally, that energy is just lost because it isn't stored. During
      the day when air conditioners crank up and energy demands rise,
      electricity can be released from the batteries to take the load off
      the power grid. In theory, that means PG&E won't have to build as
      many planet-warming natural gas-fired power plants to meet peak
      demand or as an insurance policy against blackouts. It also allows
      the utility to do "load leveling." Cranking up a power plant to
      supply electricity when demand suddenly spikes is expensive. EV
      batteries could release electricity to the grid to fill in the gaps
      between supply and demand. The same is true if batteries are used at
      electrical substations. "If we can put in $5,000 worth of batteries
      and avoid putting in a $50,000 transformer and upgrading the lines
      then everyone is a winner," Thesen says.

      Electric car makers like Silcon Valley's Tesla Motors and Norway's
      Think could be some of the biggest winners. The battery is the most
      expensive part of an electric car, and PG&E's plan would create a
      significant secondary market for them, especially if other utilities
      like Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric
      (SRE) follow suit. A second life for electric car batteries would
      lower their cost as battery financing syndicates are formed to buy
      and sell the vehicles' power plants. That would help jump start the
      market for electric cars by making them more affordable. It could
      also spur further technological progress in battery development to
      exend their range and power. "Those batteries have some residual
      capacity and that residual capacity is actually valuable," Tesla CEO
      Martin Eberhard told Green Wombat last week. "At a substation you
      take a whole stack of three-quarter dead batteries and just run them
      into the ground and then chuck them into recycling." He said there
      would be no obstacle to repurposing Tesla's powerful lithium-ion
      batteries - which give its forthcoming Roadster super car its 200
      mile range and zero-to-60-in-four-seconds vroom- for such use.

      According to Thesen there are few technological challenges to
      implementing the concept. An off-the-shelf inverter used for rooftop
      solar systems will do the job, provided the batteries all carry the
      same voltage. (PG&E says its working on technology to allow different
      voltages to be used together.) Of course, there's a chicken-and-egg
      dilemma at work here. PG&E will need thousands of such batteries, and
      while Ford (F), General Motors (GM) and Toyota have made some noise
      about manufacturing plug-in hybrids, no production models yet exist.
      Meanwhile, the initial production runs from electric car companies
      like Tesla and Think will be limited. And given that some electric
      car batteries are expected to last at least five years or 100,000
      miles, it will be some time before they're ready to be recycled as
      mini-power plants. (A traditional hybrid battery like that found in
      the Prius can be used but it produces relatively little electricity.)
      Still, if PG&E and other utilities become ready buyers of EV
      batteries the electric car market could expand much faster than
      anticipated. And that will create another source of supply:
      mint-condition batteries left behind when drivers inevitably crash their cars.

      "By having these out there we don't have to import as much peak power
      when it's really expensive from places that are far away," says
      Thesen, who himself had his Prius converted into a plug-in. "We move
      it at the cheapest most efficient time. And for PG&E that also means
      it's the cleanest. So we're going to be able to upload more clean
      power to the grid and it's the cheap stuff. So this is a wonderful
      synergistic win-win for everyone and it will make vehicle batteries
      cheaper because they will have worth. When we make an electric
      battery cheaper that means more people can afford it. And that means
      we put less demand on foreign oil imports."

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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