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Loading the Grid with Our Brakes

Check this out:

Ford Tests A Hybrid Plug-In Car That Produces Power

Now here’s an idea, straight out of Detroit, and it’s bigger than an Expedition: A plug-in hybrid Ford that not only draws electricity from the power grid so its travels use less gasoline, but which also replenishes the grid with its excess energy.

It’s an idea Ford is testing with Southern California Edison Co., the utility that serves power-hungry parts of Southern California.

Imagine it: A legion of drivers, using the friction of their braking to power their homes. That’s what could happen if the idea works, as the batteries charged during driving release their excess onto the power grid.

It holds the promise for new and innovative conservation schemes that might reward drivers for plugging in during peak periods of electricity demand. Let’s hear it for Detroit.

Well, hip hip hooray, and all that , but I have a question -- wouldn't that reserved braking energy do just as much good stored in a battery in the car? What's the big advantage of pushing that power into the home (or back into the grid in general?)


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This could make sense if the hybrids had many, many farads of high-voltage capacitors in them, between the motor/generator and batteries. (Which would be reasonable to do from a performance standpoint, I'd think.) If you happened to arrive home in your garage (or anywhere) with your batteries at 100%, and a decent charge in those capacitors, you might as well dump them into the grid, as they'll bleed all that charge away over time.

But draining the batteries to power the grid would be silly.

The biggest reason I've heard to explain why we might want to do this is because the way we generate electricity doesn't really match the way we use it. There's a big spike in usage in early to mid-afternoon, but our generators are really designed to operate at a fixed output. So we have an excess generator capacity, either all the time or just during peak hours or we end up with rolling blackouts (1). Either way, that's inefficient and expensive. If we had lots of batteries hooked up to the grid as a buffer, the problem would be much smaller. Despite what the article suggested, it really has nothing to do with regenerative braking.

1) Last week my office building shut down parts of the cooling system for a couple of days because the power company asked the campus to cut back on power usage.

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