Better Place battery swap stations off-the-grid?

One of the horror stories we all hear about the mass adoption of electric cars is “But it will crush the grid when everyone plugs in at once!” Even a Webzine I sort of enjoy for outside-the-box thinking, Low Tech Magazine, has perpetrated this myth.

The problem for Low Tech Magazine is that they didn’t address this talk by Better Place founder & CEO, Shai Agassi. Download the audio, not the video, because the video doesn’t have any graphs or visuals you really need. Basically, they forgot all about the “Smart Grid” which will have all the cars talking to each other every 3 seconds, monitoring which car needs to be fully charged by when, and which cars might even be able to sell charge back to the grid if needed. The grid smoothing that results is actually quite beneficial for grids. Shai Agassi has calculated that to wean Australia off imported oil only would require a quarter of our cars to be electric in 8 years (which is 50% below the normal fleet replacement time of 100% every 16 years or so). Also, this quarter of the fleet would only take an extra 1% electricity supply per year for the next 8 years. This is on top of any other electricity supply being added to the grid to cope with demand and population increases, but you can see how eminently achievable this all seems. If only we had some bold legislation! (Much more amazing information at the talk)

Video of the battery swap station in Japan, you’ll be amazed how fast it works.
See Better Place Australia.

So Shai Agassi imagines Better Place being  a part of large cities and running off a grid supplemented by renewables, even intermittent renewables like wind, which will make use of the batteries for ‘grid smoothing’.

But what about more isolated country areas?

Let’s imagine an off-the-grid Better Place battery swap!
Imagine one of these battery-charging stations running from locally sourced electricity. It could be  powered by geothermal or solar thermal if inland, or CETO wavepower on the coast. These are largely baseload providers of electricity and should have no problem providing power to a flexible energy input device like a Better Place battery swap.

Indeed, all those batteries in neat charging bays underground gets me asking some other questions.

Imagine an off-the-grid Better Place station with a larger than average stash of batteries underground because it is running on high-ERoEI but also highly intermittent WIND POWER! Imagine the sums have been done, the average traffic flows through this part of the world have been calculated, and extra batteries have been installed for even those seasonal or once a year events (like camping holidays, Christmas catch-ups, or seasonal fishing  trips… even the Tamworth Country and Western music festival, with “Both types of music here!” 😉

With so many batteries in the Station, surely some can be drawn upon to run that station while the wind was down. That is, hopefully enough batteries would be being charged while the wind was blowing to allow enough batteries to be fully charged for customers AND have a reserve bank of batteries that the station itself could draw upon when the wind died. These batteries would run the lights, satellite internet connection (if we are talking deep country), the fridges, and even the Battery Swap station itself.

This ‘reserve bank’ of the underground batteries would begin charging the the moment the wind picks up again, and would eventually end up put back in the queue and end up out in the car marketplace. It’s an interesting combination of a new car market battery-swap supplier and the old problem of wind turbines being intermittent. I guess what I’m asking is whether or not intermittent supply is really that big a deal when running a massive battery bank?

Then of course is the possibility of off-the-grid small nuclear power plants like the Hyperion battery which should be mass produced to international safety standards, and deployed in the next few years. That changes a number of ball-games right away, but security issues still remain a concern for me.

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