Are electric cars the key to boosting wind power capacity?

It’s well known that wind power is intermittent, which means that wind farms typically do not have power outputs equal to their total capacity. And there are basically three ways of dealing with this.

One is to install more capacity than is needed over a broad area, another is to balance the load with quick-starting natural gas “peaker” plants (which are already used to improve reliability today), and the third is to have some sort of energy storage to absorb the peaks and supplement the lulls.

Electric cars have often been seen as a means of balancing renewable energy sources. As the theory goes, EVs are basically giant batteries on wheels, with enough of them plugged in, grid operators could use them to help absorb spikes from renewable power sources.

A new study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories puts some numbers to that theory. Researchers determined that if there were 2.1 million electric vehicles on the road in the seven states served by the Northwest Power Pool, an additional 10 GW of wind power could be added to the grid without a need for additional power plants for backup (as a point of reference, Oregon, the region’s wind power leader, currently has about 2 GW of installed capacity). This would be accomplished by using “Grid Friendly” charging technology that is responsive to grid conditions.

This is a tall order to be sure – 2.1 million cars would be about 13 percent of the existing vehicles on the road in the region. But if electric cars are shown to have utility in offsetting power production costs, it could make the case for additional — or continuing — incentives for buyers.

Photo by colannade via Creative Commons

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

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