Electric vehicles: the tip of the Smart Grid spear

GigaOm Pro has a comprehensive review of the top 6 trends in smart grid adoption.  (subscription only PDF) As with many things “smart grid” most of the 6 categories would make a regular person’s eyes glaze over: the smart utility, the smart energy home, the smart enterprise and smart transportation.  There is not much sexy about the power grid other than every aspect of modern life is completely dependent on it.

One for the most basic areas of improvement is decreasing energy loss or disuse.  Its an easy concept to get on the energy loss but less so on disuse. Power loss in transmission accounts for about 6.5% of all energy produced so any efficiency gained there go straight to the bottom line. If you take a look at the US power grid you can see what a mess it really is, and what an old mess.

NPR: US Energy grid - click for interactive map

A harder concept to understand is disuse, the people at Lawrence Livermoor say that America uses 39.97 quads of energy, while it wastes 54.64 quads (i.e. “rejected energy***”).

Estimated US energy use in 2009: ~94.6 Quads

*** I found a really good explanation of the above chart.  Raaron at Greening Neighborhoods breaks it down.  Go read the whole thing but here is the over view and the important part about “rejected energy:”

“In a nutshell, here’s what it says: (1) the U.S. uses an awful lot of energy and (2) we waste and/or lose considerably more than we actually use.  This means we have to over-generate energy to meet our needs.  This means we have to over-pollute as well.  The chart illustrates this fact more starkly than any I’ve seen before.  I’d like to take a moment to think about what it says about where we get our energy in this country and how we use it.  Bear with me, because there’s a real kicker at the end.

Now, here’s the kicker.  In this close-up, look at the light and dark gray bars on the right side of the chart.  The light gray represents lost or wasted energy, and the dark gray represents energy we actually use.  Lawrence Livermore uses the term “rejected energy” for the energy that is lost and can’t be used.

Yes, it’s true.  We lose a lot more energy than we use.  We lose massive amounts of electricity through leakage in the transmission grid, especially over long-distance power lines. (For 2009) In percentages, we used about 42.1% of the energy we generated and lost about 57.9% of it.  Their term “rejected energy” seems far too bland for what this really represents.”

Here is another graph that is a little easier to understand.

Example of energy lost during conversion and transmission. Imagine that the coal needed to illuminate an incandescent light bulb contains 100 units of energy when it enters the power plant. Only two units of that energy eventually light the bulb. The remaining 98 units are lost along the way, primarily as heat.

Power distribution and prevention of loss or disuse is covered in the concept of the smart utility but its so disconnected from normal people’s everyday life that its hard to get anyone excited about or focused on the smart grid from that perspective. However, when everyone drives an electric vehicle that changes quickly.

From the report: “Yet the major game changer in the HEM (Home Energy Management) market will be the introduction of electric vehicles to the home. Realistically, the EV will force the smart grid and many of the applications associated with it to ramp up capacity and capabilities immediately. This is very true for the HEM market as well. While EID (energy information display) devices will see slow growth over the next several years, as the mobile-based platforms addressed above take hold and gain traction in the home, the introduction of the “garage gas station” and the larger loads associated with it will benefit EID vendors that have a more robust offering.

EVs and charging equipment have only recently come to market. Unlike legacy appliances, they include the embedded intelligence for slowing, speeding or delaying the flow of power that is central to making the smart grid smart. Thus, smart EV charging has been described as the “killer application” of the smart grid.

Pulling all of this together, this analysis forecasts that global investments in the applications and hardware to enable smart EV charging will grow from $168.7 million in 2011 to $454.8 million in 2015.”

EV smart charging revenue by region

Auto makers are already pushing hard to deliver EV’s in all major markets and as they do the utility companies, distributed power management systems, home energy smart meters and smart appliance makers will get carried in its wake as consumers suddenly have a vested interest in how energy is produced, generated and consumed.  EVs represent a game changing transition, for the US market in particular and represent the tip of the spear for smart grid adoption.

About Daniel Davenport

Daniel is a digital media executive with internet and broadcast experience. Daniel is currently the executive strategy director at THINK Interactive.

2 Responses to “Electric vehicles: the tip of the Smart Grid spear”

  1. I see you “borrowed” the chart I “borrowed” from the Lawrence Livermore Labs. Very interesting discussion. We clearly have similar interests.

    • Daniel Davenport Reply May 12, 2011 at 4:54 pm

      Raaron –

      Thanks for your comment and for doing such a good reading of the “borrowed” chart.


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