Wednesday, September 29, 2010

PHEVs and the Smart Grid discussed at UCLA conference

With the imminent launch of two new plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt, just around the corner, sixty or so engineers and officials active in energy and transportation research, policy development, and commercialization gathered yesterday (September 28, 2010) in Boelter Hall at UCLA to talk about these innovative new cars, the “smart grid,” and the relationship between the two.

The “smart grid” is the next generation version of the energy-delivery network, which allows for two-way transfer of power and includes the means for granular communication and control of the energy flow process.

Organized under the auspices of the Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC) by its Director, UCLA Professor Rajit Gadh, the event featured a keynote address by California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Commissioner Timothy Simon.

The main point made by the speakers was that there is a strong synergy between the deployment of PHEVs and the creation of a “smart grid” able to manage two-way energy and information flows over the power distribution network.

Many of the speakers highlighted the need for more customer education, in order to bring the public up-to-speed on the technological and economic aspects of the transition to a more widespread deployment of electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support them.

In his keynote presentation to the group, Commissioner Simon pointed out that 40% of California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from transportation and that the increased use of PHEVs could significantly reduce US importation and consumption of foreign oil, while delivering the equivalent of $0.75/gallon gasoline.

After his talk, Commissioner Simon also expressed his belief that Proposition 23, which would effectively shut down AB 32, the climate change law, would not be approved by California voters in this fall’s election. He also said that threats to privacy through the enhanced ability of the smart grid to monitor customers’ use patterns was no greater than that already enabled by everyday use of credit and debit cards to make gasoline purchases.

Peter Suterko, Fleet Manager at Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), talked about the actual experience his agency has already had with using electric vehicles and pointed out that the annoying stop-and-go traffic so much in evidence in Los Angeles has a hidden benefit in that it’s ideally-suited to the regenerative braking technology found in hybrids.

Phil Gow of Coda Automotive of Santa Monica, California, talked about his company’s soon-to-be launched PHEV and the innovative marketing plans it has for their product, involving selling them from retail storefronts at malls.

Mike Gravely, Manager of the Energy Systems Research Office of the California Energy Commission, delivered the Lunch Keynote, entitled “How Providing Grid Services Can Improve the Cost Profile of Electric Vehicles.” He asserted that 25% of the electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S. would be found in California in the coming years, meaning that California would adopt this technology at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the country.

He also mentioned a pilot program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)of 2009 and involving UCLA, USC, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology, that would investigate what it would take to build out a smart grid in Los Angeles. He talked about California becoming recognized at the Smart Grid State, and discussed the synchrophasor technology that uses GPS and other advanced methods to monitor and control energy flow in the grid.

Mr. Gravely also referenced the provision of “grid ancillary services” through the “second use” of PHEV battery packs in home and commercial devices that could provide smart grids with the ability to use these systems to store green energy from wind turbines at night and then call upon their stored energy during times of peak demand, thereby eliminating the need to build additional facilities.

Conference organizer Rajit Gadh announced the creation of a UCLA SoCal Electric Vehicle-Smart Grid Consortium that will work with commercial partners to take advantage of the research and thought leadership being generated at the school through its ongoing programs and special conferences such as this one.

UCLA provided its usual range of tasty and nutritious food to sustain conference participants throughout the day and at the patio reception at the close of the event.

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