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Smart-grid project matches wind to electric cars

Exploring the link between renewable energy and smart-grid technology, IBM joins a research effort in Denmark to optimize wind energy output with plug-in electric car charging.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read

IBM is joining a Danish project to optimize wind turbine energy for plug-in electric vehicles, the latest sign of the growing interest among policy-makers in smart-grid technologies.

The EDISON (Electric Vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated Market using Sustainable Energy and Open Networks) research consortium will seek to match power generation from wind turbines on the island of Bornholm, Denmark, with the power consumption of charging plug-in electric cars.

The long-term goal is to boost the percentage of plug-in electric cars to 10 percent in the country while maximizing the use of wind energy in Denmark, which already gets 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like wind. The project is partly funded by the government of Denmark.

Smart-grid technologies can help utilities better integrate renewable energy sources and run the transmission grid more efficiently, said Allan Schurr, the vice president of strategy and development at IBM's Global Energy and Utilities practice, which is participating in about 50 projects.

Along with other industry executives, IBM's Schurr spoke Wednesday morning about smart-grid technologies in Washington, D.C., at the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Smart grid refers to a number of technologies aimed at gathering more data on the flow of electricity through the transmission grid. For a consumer, it can mean tools to better manage home energy use; for a utility it can be tools to ratchet back energy consumption during peak times.

In an interview on Tuesday, Schurr said that he planned to tell members of Congress that smart-grid technologies are already available and can deliver substantial improvements in efficiency. What's holding back large-scale adoption isn't technology but regulations and "institutional inertia," according to the text of his testimony.

Smart-grid technologies are not required to make larger use of wind and solar power but they can make them less expensive, Schurr said. Getting a handle on power supply and demand in real time helps address the variable nature of wind and solar power, he said.

"Variable output from renewable causes problems for the grid operators and wind is the biggest culprit," he said. "When you have a way for the loads to be modulated then you know that if the wind were blowing, it'd be a great time to charge electric cars."


In the Danish Edison project, researchers will try to use simulations and historical data analysis to project ways to best match wind turbines' output with car charging. A dip in wind power, for example, could allow a utility to slow down the speed of car battery charging.

Better balancing electricity supply from wind or solar energy with demand means that utilities do not need to build "stand-by" power plants that can delivery electricity reliably, Schurr said.

"If every megawatt of renewable needs a fossil fuel-fired generator in stand-by, then you increase the cost substantially of 'free' resources," he said.

Large companies have typically employed people to optimize their own energy use. Smart-grid technology, such as consumer home energy-management systems, allow consumers and small businesses to optimize their energy use, Schurr said.

On Wednesday, IBM published results of a survey that found that consumers want to be more actively involved in managing their energy consumption.

Charging consumers to more accurately reflect the actual cost of a product--in this case energy--will lead consumers to change their behavior, smart-grid advocates say. In the telecom industry, people quickly adjusted to call at night to get cheaper rates. In energy, an analog would be running a dishwasher at off-peak times, Schurr said.

The GridWise smart-grid trial in the Seattle area in 2007 found that consumers lowered their energy use by 10 percent and utilities were able to shave their peak demand by 15 percent. Those same types of efficiency improvements are "feasible at large scale even without a lot of equipment. Price and consumption awareness leads to a conservation effect," Schurr said.