By Jericho Rajninger and Megan Bergeron
Electric vehicles (EVs) are more than just a means of transportation: they’re mobile batteries that store large amounts of power on the road. Because EV batteries are often underutilized by drivers, some of the energy stored in these batteries can be pushed back into the electrical grid through a process known as vehicle-to-grid integration. Vehicle-to-grid integration involves creating EV batteries that are capable of bidirectional charging, meaning they can both receive electricity from and return electricity to the power grid. If electric vehicles were to be adopted on a large scale, they could help supply renewable energy to buildings and homes.
Smart Charging and Renewable Energy:
EV owners often charge their vehicles during hours of peak energy demand — for instance, in the evening after they arrive home from work. But charging at these times puts additional strain on the power grid, and because the power grid at higher usage includes more power from polluting sources, such as natural gas-fired power plants, this reduces the greenhouse gas benefits of electric vehicles.
Smart charging systems look to maximize renewable energy use by charging EVs when surpluses of renewable energy are available — for example, at noon on a sunny day. When the power grid cannot store all of the energy generated by renewable sources at a given time, this energy may be “curtailed” – a circumstance in which power generators are actually paid not to generate power. But if EVs were integrated with the existing power grid, they could improve the flexibility of the grid by storing clean energy during periods of low electricity demand (noon on a sunny day). Then, during periods of high demand (in the early evening), energy providers could purchase clean energy back from EV owners and use it to power homes and buildings. This process is known as Demand Response.
Autonomous vehicles, such as cars, trucks, and drones, rely on artificial intelligence to operate with varying degrees of human input. By computing billions of data points each second from an array of sensors, cameras, and radar systems, AVs can effectively see the road and respond to changing conditions or navigate obstacles. Automation technology, vehicle connectivity technology, and big data could reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, protect the environment, respond to climate change, connect underserved communities, and support economic vitality. The United States has committed to significant carbon emissions reductions in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change. In light of these commitments, it is critical to examine the development of automation technology and self-driving vehicles through the lens of climate change.
On its own, autonomous vehicle technology will not affect carbon emissions from light-duty vehicles; however, the application of the technology will herald changes in how Americans, particularly in urban areas, travel from one place to another. Whether AVs mitigate or worsen carbon pollution from light-duty vehicles in the transportation sector will depend on three key factors: their effect on the total vehicle-miles traveled in the United States; their impacts on congestion; and their fuel efficiency and fossil fuel consumption. Whether AVs will add new classes of drivers to the road, remove cars from the road through car-sharing, encourage people to commute from farther distances, or make vehicle-based transportation more efficient are still being determined.
Challenges and Limitations:
In order for vehicle-to-grid integration to become both economically and environmentally viable, there must be many more electric vehicles on the road than there are today. But electric vehicles are often more expensive to buy and produce than gas-powered cars, and while California is home to more electric vehicles (about 600,000) than any other state, EVs still represent only a small share of total vehicles. By 2030, California aims to have 5 million EVs on the road.
Most importantly, the technology that would allow for bidirectional charging is still in early stages of development. More research is required to understand the efficacy of this technology and the effect it might have on EV batteries. Needed, too, is a robust charging infrastructure that can accommodate an expansive network of electric vehicles.
- How EV Charging Can Clean Up China’s Electricity Grid: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/barbara-finamore/how-ev-charging-can-clean-chinas-electricity-grid
- As More Cars Plug In, Utilities and Makers Juggle Ways to Charge Them: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/business/electric-cars-fuel.html
- Global EV Outlook 2020: https://www.iea.org/reports/global-ev-outlook-2020
- Tesla quietly adds bidirectional charging capability for game-changing new features: https://electrek.co/2020/05/19/tesla-bidirectional-charging-ready-game-changing-features/
- The Impact of Vehicle Automation on Carbon Emissions: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2016/11/18/292588/the-impact-of-vehicle-automation-on-carbon-emissions-where-uncertainty-lies/
- Implementing Equitable Adaptation: https://www.georgetownclimate.org/adaptation/toolkits/equitable-adaptation-toolkit/introduction.html?full
- By 2030, California will have 5 million EV’s: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-02-02/newsom-budget-electric-cars#:~:text=Jerry%20Brown%20set%20a%20goal,California%20be%20zero%2Demission%20vehicles
- The future of autonomous electric transportation: https://www.globalxetfs.com/future-of-transportation-is-autonomous-electric/