Development of Advanced Batteries and Integration into Smart Grid

With both the current administration and the eyes of the world focused on more earth friendly and efficient technologies, batteries have come to the forefront of the sustainability conversation. Although many people are aware that electric and hybrid cars use batteries, not all are familiar with battery technology’s wider-ranging impact on the innovative smart grid initiative. As part of this initiative, batteries have implications for energy storage and facilitation of a two-way, consumer driven energy market. Though there are many technological aspects to a smart grid at every stage of transmission, it essentially utilizes smart meters at the end user’s location to determine, via digital feedback, factors such as peak usage hours, lapses in service and security breaches in real time. It also potentially allows consumers to monitor usage by analyzing what hardware, such as appliances, which activities, or what times of the day are most costly to them. Some of this technology is in place and being utilized today after becoming a major priority with the government, [i] and tax incentives have been in place since 2008. [ii] However, much of this technology is geared towards analysis of usage and using that knowledge to impact consumer behavior. Other potential aspects of a smart grid are geared toward actual facilitation of energy storage and transfer which would give further incentives to people to maximize efficient behavior. The best example of this is the potential interoperability of smart grid with electric vehicles, namely through electric batteries. Proponents envision a scenario where electric and hybrid car owners could charge their vehicles during non-peak usage hours, such as overnight. The electricity in their batteries could then be used during driving, which in itself is more efficient than using gasoline. Alternatively, if the owner were not using their vehicle that day, they could sell the energy back into the grid, possibly at variable rates, to subsidize their own energy costs and smooth out fluctuations in energy demand. This type of interconnected, or mesh, system would provide greater support in the case of shortages or failures, and would see electric cars in their capacity as alternative storage facilities serve as the fulcrum for market-based solutions to energy efficiency. Smart grid generally, and battery technology specifically, has been encouraged in the U.S. since before the current administration took office. [iii] Prior to that, battery technology became a very hot topic in the U.S. auto industry, as the Japanese took the lead, then dominated, the market for advanced battery technology. [iv] Competition should heat up further as some estimates expect the market for this technology to grow to between $30 and $40 billion a year by the year 2020. [v] This has lead to calls for standardization in the industry as different manufacturers attempt to develop technology that will have wide-ranging use. As with any topic that brings the hot buttons of sustainability, energy, defense and economic factors together, there have been questions asked regarding the best way to facilitate the development and spread the use of smart grid technology. With this in mind, the standards community has been given a mandate, and has subsequently taken the lead in defining more broadly what smart technology can and should mean. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was given authority by Congress to develop the framework of smart grid protocol and standards in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 with instructions to ‘coordinate the development of a framework that includes protocols and model standards for information management to achieve interoperability of smart grid devices and systems.’ NIST was also instructed to include industry bodies such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. This has lead to ambitious projects such as IEEE P2030 which is attempting to develop a draft guide for interoperability of energy technology with the electric power system. [vi] This project has combined the efforts of many stakeholders in identifying broadly what a smart grid system could end up being. [vii] Many stakeholders have been involved in these broader initiatives which have showcased the success that public/private partnerships can have when given the correct guidance and room to succeed. There are examples of this success in regards specifically to battery technology as well. To wit, SAE International (formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers), has taken the lead in standards development in electronic batteries. Similar to many standards on smart grid technology, standards for battery technologies are in their infancy. Indeed, SAE’s J2847/3 ‘Communication between Plug-in Vehicles and the Utility Grid for Reverse Power Flow’ was only initiated in December of 2008, and has not progressed past its very initial phase. This standard, when completed, will give manufacturers a common language in developing interactive systems between the grid and automobiles, and will likely be one of the final steps in developing a fully integrated, two way system. [viii] However, some instrumental progress has already been made. The best example of this is as another SAE standard, J1772, which may be rolled out very soon. [ix] This initiative sets the standard for actual size and power load of connectors for electric battery charging, and is reportedly being supported by GM as well as Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Tesla in a great example of private industry involvement in a key step toward a government identified goal. [x] Proponents of the standard point to its adoption as the only hope for electric technology to really take off, and that, of course, would be a prerequisite for integrating automobiles into the smart grid system. When combined with J2487, the framework will be in place for a truly integrated system where communication between automobiles as both users of, and providers to, the nation’s energy grid. The standards system, which has encouraged private industry input, has provided outstandingly positive results in the area of battery development in hybrid technology. This public/private partnership has been successful, but continued success depends on the ongoing involvement of the auto industry in the development of standards pertaining to smart grid technology. Much like the common size of the opening of today’s fuel tank allows consumers to go to any gas station to fill-up, the continued innovation of automobile technology depends on uniformity in the solutions of tomorrow. The setting of standards with the involvement of industry is a far better solution to this key problem than government mandated solutions as has already been seen in the case of international standards being developed for electric car plugs. Continued work in areas such as system to auto communication under the guidance of NIST is the best avenue to reaching a goal of less dependence on fossil fuels, better security in the future electric grid, and further progress toward a truly interactive and smart national grid. [i] See Section 1301-1309 Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 http://leahy.senate.gov/issues/FuelPrices/EnergyIndependenceAct.pdf [ii] See The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008, page 6 http://finance.senate.gov/sitepages/leg/LEG%202008/091708%20Staff%20Summary%20of%20the%20Energy%20Improvement%20and%20Extension%20Act.pdf [iii] See The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008, page 3 http://finance.senate.gov/sitepages/leg/LEG%202008/091708%20Staff%20Summary%20of%20the%20Energy%20Improvement%20and%20Extension%20Act.pdf [iv] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122142930024933801.html [v] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122142930024933801.html [vi] Long form, ‘IEEE P2030 Draft Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation with the Electric Power System (EPS), and End-Use Applications and Loads’ See http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/scc21/2030/2030_index.html [vii] See Working Group Meeting Minutes, June 3-5, 2009 http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/scc21/2030/docs/P2030%20Meeting%20Minutes%2007_2009.pdf [viii] http://www.sae.org/servlets/works/documentHome.do?comtID=TEVHYB&docID=J2847/3&inputPage=wIpSdOcDeTaIlS [ix] http://green.autoblog.com/2009/04/21/sae-2009-sae-j1772-plug-standard-could-be-finalized-by-this-fal/ [x] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAE_J1772 see also http://www.goodcleantech.com/2009/04/gm_proposes_electric_car_plug.php see http://blawgconomics.blogspot.com/2009/09/reviewing-us-auto-makers-target-battery.html for other thoughts on advanced battery technology and http://blawgconomics.blogspot.com/2009/10/china-taking-lead-on-green-tech.html for China's market leading role in this area of technology

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