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PG&E First to Commit to Buying Used Plug-In Batteries
Jun 11, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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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 at­audio-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" blog­greenwombat/­ 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,USA­greenwombat/­2007/­06/­photo_green_wom.html

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."

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