Hints about the value of smart grid technologies

Michael Giberson

Via the New York Time‘s Green, Inc. blog, a story from a community newspaper in Massachusetts describing adaptations to the loss of power during the recent snow and ice storms that covered the area. In one case a man pressed his Prius into service as an emergency generator, a feature likely to become standard if hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles become widely adopted.

Around the corner at Madigan Lane, John Sweeney, a member of the town’s conservation-minded Heat Advisory Committee, took a characteristically green approach to powering his home during the storm. He reported his achievement in an e-mail, saying it was no big deal, but that his wife thought it an impressive tale worth sharing: Sweeney ran his refrigerator, freezer, TV, woodstove fan, and several lights through his Prius, for three days, on roughly five gallons of gas.

“When it looked like we were going to be without power for awhile, I dug out an inverter (which takes 12v DC and creates 120v AC from it) and wired it into our Prius…These inverters are available for about $100 many places online,” he wrote.

The device allowed the engine to run every half hour, automatically charging the car battery and indirectly supplying the required power.

Green, Inc. notes that the New York Times itself had reported a similar story a year earlier:

This form of vehicle-to-grid technology, often called V2G, has attracted hobbyists, university researchers and companies like Pacific Gas & Electric and Google. Although there is some skepticism among experts about the feasibility of V2G, the big players see a future in which fleets of hybrid cars, recharged at night when demand is lower, can relieve the grid and help avert serious blackouts….

No automaker is selling a plug-in hybrid vehicle, but some ambitious people are making their own. Converting a stock Prius to back up the grid is much easier, and the guru for such conversions is Richard Factor, 61, an inventor from Kinnelon, N.J….

During a recent six-hour power failure, Mr. Factor estimated that his 2005 Prius used less than one gallon of gasoline.

The V2G potential of Honda’s full hybrid vehicles is unexplored, but the company is doubtful of using them to power homes. “We would not like to see stresses on the battery pack caused by putting it through cycles it wasn’t designed for,” said Chris Naughton, a Honda spokesman. “Instead, they should buy a Honda generator that was made for that purpose.”

I can gather that Honda would rather sell a car and a generator, and that some consumers are wealthy enough to afford having a generator sit around unused for, perhaps 364 days a year on average in order to have power that 365th day. But seems like it would be wasteful to have a large stock of PHEV and a bunch of very infrequently used diesel or gasoline-fueled home generators laying about.

Clearly, too, electric utilities are wary of consumers hooking generators up in their homes. But these barriers will be overcome, and likely soon.

3 thoughts on “Hints about the value of smart grid technologies

  1. “Honda would rather sell a car and a generator”.
    You should also note that the car provides more than a generator: it provides a low duty cycle generator with a battery.
    If you run your house with a Honda generator, the generator is running all the time, even if you are only using a few watts right now. To replace the car *system* you need an auto-start generator, a battery buffer, and control electronics.

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