August 5, 2008

AUTOBLOG: Obama: 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2015.

UPDATE: Dave Ivers is unimpressed:

Great. Just great. Where the heck is he going to get all the electricity from? No new nukes. No new coal-fired plants. Certainly no new oil-fired plants. I’m pretty sure we’re not all going to drive to West Texas each night and plug into Boone Pickens’ windmills. I’m near Detroit. Maybe a 1500 mile-long cord from my place to West Texas?

Seriously. Is anybody paying attention to a guy who is beginning to look pretty obviously dumber than the MSM ever claimed Dan Quayle was? What the hell has happened to his ‘handlers’ and ‘policy people’? Can anyone on that campaign staff do elementary math?

Actually, I think the grid could easily absorb a million plugin hybrids, since they’d mostly be charging at night when consumption is way off-peak. But ultimately you’ve got to have lots more nuclear power if you want to switch to even mostly-electric cars and you don’t want to pollute the air, so it’s fair to raise that point.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Gene Smith writes:

As a Californian who pays attention, I can point out 2 more limits on charging cars which do apply at night…

Much of our peak power comes from natural gas which has had price shocks of its own in the last decade. And that gas comes in by pipelines which run near capacity. The local storage rises during the night, and falls during the day. And the inability to keep up with supply needs over a multi day period was on factor in the blackouts/price spikes.

I don’t know to what extent the problem has fixed itself, although I do know there was nimby opposition to new capacity, but a search of:

california natural gas pipeline overnight capacity

on google gets 368,000 hits. And that does not seem to me likely to be spam sites grabbing traffic:)

Reader Chad Irby also thinks I’m too optimistic about the overnight charging:

What will really happen is that people will drive to and from work, then plug their cars in the second they get back to their homes, putting a massive load on the grid between 5 PM and 7 PM. Good night, California.

Unless, of course, someone makes it illegal to do so, which screws people who HAVE to plug in at that time due to shift work, or who need another fifteen miles of charge for errands after work.

It also makes it less possible for the electric companies to take plants offline at night for maintenance, so we get even MORE failures in the system.

This is an argument for more intelligent power-management, something Lynne Kiesling has written about before. Plus, in a pinch, plug-in hybrids, unlike pure electrics, can always charge themselves. And reader David Stine emails:

Professor,

I’m a retired EE.

Long story short: In *some* areas of the US (maybe, oh, Texas and the midwest) the US grid might absorb a million hybrids.

In California or the northeast? No way. Not even at night. There’s serious lack of transmission capacity in the summer months in both regions.

California, especially, has been short of transmission capacity for years.

BTW — plug-in hybrids assume that you have a household power service of 200 amps and that most of that capacity is available (ie, you’re not using it for heating, hot water, cooking, etc). If you’re an apartment dweller, or live in an older home that doesn’t have 200 amp service, you’re basically SOL as far as charging a hybrid or electric car in an overnight scenario and having it fully recharged the next morning.

Many electric car advocates have ignored the transmission infrastructure issues that need to be addressed for widespread deployment of rechargeable cars. Everyone who isn’t an EE keeps flapping their yaps about generation capacity. Generation is simple. Transmission and scheduling of loads is far more challenging than mere generation of power. EE’s are working on ideas for a “smart grid” to allow consumers to match their demands for power with available generation and transmission capacity, but those upgrades would cos t10’s of billions of dollars. Are consumers going to fork up that much extra on their power bills?

If we’re going to shift the amount of power consumption we’re talking about for personal transportation from gasoline/diesel to electrical power, then we have to invest in not only power plants, but power transmission – down to the household level.

Like I said . . . . On the other hand, reader John Beckwith thinks Obama is a piker:

1MM pluggable hybrids is nothing. It is less than 10% of cars sold per year. It should happen in a few years naturally without government intervention. As you note, the grid can easily absorb it. In fact, plugging hybrids (and their large batteries) into the grid might actually help stablize our creaky old grid if the charging is managed by the utility. It is likely that pluggables will largely replace ‘spinning reserves’ in that they can put power back when needed. I know of at least one startup that is marketing this capability. Network enabled energy storage elements will make the grid way better than it is now.

Obama’s energy plan is lame for other reasons. At best, it mandates and subsidized things the market is already doing on its own. At worst, it will become yet another pork vehicle that crowds out true innovation. The best thing the government can do is remove barriers to permitting nukes (and maybe also to selling retrofit kits for older vehicles so they can become PHEVs) and otherwise get out of the way. Clever, greedy people will take care of the rest. Obama can then villify and tax them.

As I said, intelligent power management is key. And as for vilifying and taxing success — that’s what government is for. Otherwise the rest of the citizenry might develop self esteem problems. This was all addressed by Robert Heinlein, natch:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”

Yeah, I’ve quoted this before, but it’s evergreen.

MORE: Steve Schubart writes: “You have some really smart readers.” Yes, I do.

STILL MORE: Reader Christopher Villarreal emails:

Since I work at the California PUC, the issue of when to charge a PHEV is something we are very interested in and working to facilitate. One of the benefits that we are hoping for with PHEV’s is to take advantage of our wind sources. Specifically, California’s wind peaks at night- in other words, we can’t use wind when it’s hot since it’s hot because there’s no wind. The California ISO has a graph that I could probably find for you tomorrow, if you’re interested, that shows wind and peak are inverse to each other- peak times (3-6 PM) is when wind is at its lowest, and wind is at its highest when demand is at its lowest (night time).

So, what does all that mean- having PHEV’s charge at night would allow wind powered generation to actually meet some amount of demand. PHEV is being viewed as a sort of distributed generation during the day and afternoon to help meet some demand, then charge up at night and be used to help integrate wind.

Additionally, there is work already going on to deal with the timing issue, such as having timers on the PHEV’s outlet at home so that you can set when the car will be charging. Coupled with a expectation of having more dynamic prices for residential (one day) that represents local prices (LMPs), there should be some price signal sent to the customer showing when one can charge relatively cheaply (although I imagine that initially there will be an extra (higher) rate for a PHEV owner who charges at home- I have a friend trying to convince his work to pay for the charging facilities and make use of their on-site generation).

That doesn’t even go into all the ways businesses are looking at matching solar installations with plug in facilities, such as parking lots that install solar arrays over the parking lots and allow customers to charge whilst shopping.

However, I do think that the transmission and distribution system will be stressed to integrate the power needs of a lot of PHEV’s coming on to the grid. Without a major upgrade of the nation’s distribution system, the additional power that will be coming or going out of houses and apartment complexes will be very challenging for utilities. Which is also why California is beginning to do some serious work on defining standards for a Smart Grid so that all of these new toys can integrate smoothly. I think your reader David Stine is essentially correct, although I think there’s enough night time capacity for PHEVs.

Very interesting, and worthy of more investigation.

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