Electric Vehicles: Perfect Wind-Power Outlet?

A problem with wind power is that it tends to come haphazardly and at night, making it difficult to integrate into the grid. But wait: Isn’t that when the electric vehicles (EVs) of the future will be sitting in garages and driveways, needing a charge? And what if we used smart-charging technology to access that rising and falling wind-produced power, as it become available, to replenish the EV batteries?

That’s the logic path researchers at the University of Calgary traveled down with their new study, “Environmental Benefits of Using Wind Generation to Power Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles.” The question was especially pertinent to them because the province of Alberta, at the western edge of Canada’s plains, foresees wind capacity expanding by at least 4,000 megawatts (MW) – and perhaps as much as 11,000 MW – by 2025.

Alberta wind power for electric vehicles

image via Shutterstock

As the Calgary Herald noted in its piece about the study – and as we’ve reported – grid operators now deal with wind power’s variability by keeping a lot of coal-fired generation at the ready. This increases both costs and pollution, and underutilizes wind.

But the Calgary researchers say that by investing in EVs and making them pervasive in the province, grid operators would have an outlet for wind-power just when production tends to be at its peak, at night. The result: “This would permit more wind power to be incorporated into the system and dramatically increase the environmental benefits of (EVs) by ensuring they run off clean electricity,” the researchers report.

Alberta wind power for electric vehicles

image via Shutterstock

The researchers emphasized that smart-charging technology is a key to this scenario, ensuring that EVs are charging at opportune times – and even feeding energy back to the grid when needed. “Therefore,” they wrote, “policies such as developing smart-charging infrastructure to efficiently control that demand or placing extra tariffs on charging during peak times must be created.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.