Innovative technologies find fertile ground where conundrums meet persistent minds. It also doesn’t hurt to have extensive resources available. The military has often provided both halves of that equation, bringing determined thinking and ample resources to bear on technology development. As it did in the case of the Internet, the military is now bringing both to bear on the challenges of the smart grid, distributed generation, and sustainable transportation.
The current delivery system for electricity is tied to an antiquated transmission infrastructure that’s being bombarded with renewable-energy installations at the same time that peak demand is soaring. In the Western United States, the energy strategy moving forward is based on long-distance, high-voltage transmission of resources from rural America. Meanwhile, funding for research and development related to the grid has dropped significantly as outages and costs continue to multiply. This situation has left the cities of the West increasingly susceptible to blackouts like that experienced in early September, when six million people across Arizona and Southern California were hit with the worst blackout experienced in 15 years. Grid outages such as these cost billions of dollars in damage, restoration costs, and economic slowdowns.
This sort of man-made failure is unacceptable to the Pentagon. Thus, enter the United States Air Force, which recently declared its intention to test a service business model with electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technology at the Los Angeles AF Base.
The Los Angeles AF Base will convert its entire non-combat, general purpose vehicle fleet to plug-in electric, either fully electric or hybrid; about 40 vehicles are eligible. What will begin as a pilot program, in support of the Department of the Air Force’s green goals, could eventually result in a massive deployment of electric vehicles at Air Force bases around the world. The goal is to demonstrate whether the Air Force can generate revenues by providing frequency regulation through advanced vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, revenues that would offset the costs of procuring an EV fleet. Peak shaving, renewables integration, and load shifting could be incorporated in the Air Force’s business model in future.
This V2G technology is a new approach to managing electric vehicles and to monetizing grid services. There are only a handful of demonstration projects in place across the globe, with only a few firms actively involved. These projects are encouraged by deregulated markets that are taking a fresh look at market structures and revamping regulatory regimes relating to grid services. This may be just the tip of the iceberg for a new market opportunity in grid services.
The application of the U.S. military’s resources to the issue of grid reliability creates opportunity to apply original thinking to problems faced in the civilian world. The Air Force’s EV and V2G programs will provide an early indicator whether technologies could eventually take root and flourish in a broader context.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Distributed Energy, Electric Vehicles, Microgrids, Military, Smart Utilities
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