The future sees electric cars pumping energy into the power grid

24 November 2017 - 09:04 By Tanya Farber
A plug for connecting to the charging station replaces the fuel cap in the electric cars.
A plug for connecting to the charging station replaces the fuel cap in the electric cars.

Think of your petrol-guzzling car standing in your garage all night while all the world is sleeping. Now‚ imagine in that same garage an electric vehicle - storing energy when it’s idle‚ and then pumping that energy back into the grid.

New research just published has found that this is the way of the future: electric cars could store power and become a ‘mobile battery’ in the process.

However‚ much improvement in the whole electric car system is needed first.

The current technology can “damage car batteries”‚ and only with several advances in design could the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) model kick in.

According to the researchers‚ Dr Kotub Uddin at the University of Warwick and Dr Matthieu Dubarry at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute‚ energy from electric cars could help regulate the frequency of the electricity supply‚ reduce the amount of electricity purchased at peak times and increase the power output of the system.

"V2G is not going to be easy‚ but‚ if done properly‚ it has a chance to make a difference for both utilities and electric-vehicle owners. We need more research to understand the process better and benefit from the technology‚" they said.

The Hawaii-based institute had found that V2G damages the battery‚ but the British one found that a “smarter grid” would make the process economically viable and even improve the battery. The two then came together to find the way forward.

Uddin says funding is needed to develop new testing standards and control strategies to guide policies that support V2G. One key element to improving the system‚ he says‚ will be the measurement of battery degradation.

For South Africans groaning under the weight of the Eskom debacle the idea of driving around in your e-vehicle and feeding electricity back into the grid is an exquisite utopia - but it’s still far off.

Earlier this year‚ Deloitte released the results of its annual automotive consumer study. It showed that South Africans’ expectations and anxieties were not quite in line with the current technologies. More than half said they would wait for an hour maximum for a battery to charge‚ yet this currently takes around three to four hours.

South Africans are also scared of getting stuck out on the road with no place to charge up and would want to be able to go for around 400km before charging up again‚ but most e-vehicles today can only handle 300km at the most‚ and usually closer to 100km.

The manufacture industry and suitable infrastructure might be in a chicken-and-egg situation waiting for the other to get on board first. In 2016‚ only 100 electric cars were sold in South Africa.