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August 29, 2008 10:46 PM   Subscribe

"A Smart Garage energy paradigm could simultaneously reduce the environmental impact of both the transport sector and the electricity sector. Driving a vehicle that uses electricity creates fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than driving a vehicle that uses gasoline, even if the electricity is made from fossil fuels (such as coal)."
posted by flabdablet (8 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

This reminds me of Jay Leno's so-called "Green Garage," which is probably greener than your garage, but still seems oxymoronic.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:05 PM on August 29, 2008

What about the inefficiencies of sending electricity down wires?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:32 PM on August 29, 2008

What about the inefficiencies of sending electricity down wires?

Transmission and distribution losses in the USA were estimated at 7.2% in 1995 [1]
posted by troy at 12:26 AM on August 30, 2008

So the idea is that lots of people have or will have an electric (or hybrid) car in the garage, and every one of those cars has underused storage. Take advantage of that: buy electricity for your electric vehicle when electricity is cheap (probably while you sleep) and use that electricity to drive to work. At work, plug your car back into the grid. If demand for electricity is great enough during the day, sell some or all of the electricity in your car back to the grid at a fat profit. If you have no electricity left in your hybrid at the end of the work day, drive home on gasoline. If you have an extra car plugged in at home, it's doing the same thing while you're at work. Something like that.

It sounds like it might work, but I smell greenwashing in the writeup. People will drive at least as much as before and companies will use at least as much electricity as before. If this system increases the amount of electricity available and lowers the cost, more of it will be used -- more coal burned, more unnecessary air conditioning used, more cars manufactured and put on the roads, longer trips, bigger piles of old batteries in dumps, less pressure to build ecologically sound structures, etc.
posted by pracowity at 1:01 AM on August 30, 2008

One thing these high gas prices have taught most middle-class people is that consuming energy & using one's motor vehicle to get around is an important part of one's standard of living.

The key thing is analyzing the current wastage -- wastage of course does not improve one's quality of life.

Collectively, assuming we act intelligently, we can push the market as much as it has been pushing us around. The point of policy is not to enact limits for the sake of limits, but to optimize; to economize by pushing off one set of local maxima to (hopefully) a superior alternative.

If coal is undesirable then perhaps the cost of electricity generated from it should be priced -- ie. taxed -- to mitigate its environmental costs.
posted by troy at 1:18 AM on August 30, 2008

If this system increases the amount of electricity available and lowers the cost, more of it will be used

which, given that the increased usage is displacing some transport-powering oil, is a net greenhouse win even if more coal is burned, because of the transport efficiency gains made possible by electric motors.

The other really good part about this is that adding widespread distributed energy storage to the grid, in the form of millions of vehicle batteries, would free us from the need to make electricity generation so closely track demand - which means that the cheaper but less predictable distributed renewable generation technologies, such as wind and solar photovoltaic power, could work every bit as satisfactorily as the so-called "baseload" sources do now provided there's enough total capacity installed.

It's a greenhouse win, a win for renewable generators, a win for vehicle owners, and a win for electricity consumers in that a totally renewable-powered future will not be significantly more expensive than we've become accustomed to in the present fossil-fuelled age.

Don't be too sure about the "bigger piles of old batteries in dumps" thing, either. It's my understanding that lithium-ion batteries, which are the kind that seem most likely to end up getting used on the road, are very close to 100% recyclable.
posted by flabdablet at 3:26 AM on August 30, 2008

Good post. I'm a big fan of the hybrid-plus model. Energy costs are driven by peak demand, and peak demand is really out of whack with off-peak demand. Consider that our power plants must be able to supply enough energy to keep every home and office cool on the hottest day, even when those peak moments make up only a few hours for a few days of the year. If power plants aren't up to the task in those peak moments, you get rolling brownouts and the system is deemed a complete failure despite working 99.99% of the time.

Power companies use highly inefficient and super-polluting spot generators to cover some of that peak demand, but ultimately they're forced to build more generating capacity, more power plants, with all the environmental problems, NIMBY-arguments, and economic costs associated with new power generation. Keep in mind, this is all so that they can cover power needs a few days a year for a few hours each day. Thus, most of the inefficient marginal energy production going on can be fixed with spot solutions. A fleet of hybrid-plus vehicles, pumping power back into the network at peak times while most people are at work, is the perfect solution!

Moreover, we only need one or two large companies to show the efficacy of such a solution. Pick one: Walmart, Google, Apple, or Ford. Maybe Fed-ex. As soon as it becomes clear how much money there is to be saved, and how much environmental street-cred to be earned, everybody else'll be clamoring to join in. God I love technology.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:27 AM on August 30, 2008

Also along the same lines, Project Better Places (article this month in Wired):

Project Better Places Battery Exchange Center
posted by dawiz at 9:18 PM on August 31, 2008

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