Bidirectional Charging, Grid Stalling and Roadbots

Tesla is planning to enable “bidirectional charging” in its model 3 and model Y electric cars. This means the vehicles can both take and return power to either the grid or off grid network. In Holland this option has been tauted as a great way to help the gridoperators to balance load and shave peaks of solar production during the day. We need to separate the different aspects and benefits though, so we don’t solve a problem the grid operators should have started to solve a decade ago (and openly neglected in Holland).

Shell and others have promoted car battery assisted grid balancing to not have to put storage in their grid

It would make sense to start explaining how much a car can store at this point in the post, but this is a common error. We do not promote the idea, so we can point out that stationary battery storage can deliver reliable fast energy, as has been demonstrated by many projects in industry of many producers of stationary battery systems. Tesla sells powerpacks and megapacks, and frankly these systems are not rocketscience, the battery technology used is a bit more, but it all comes down to how much can you fabricate. Demand is going to grow for at least the next 30 years.

Meanwhile the other side of the battlefield, the side supported by fossil fuel companies and banks, have been stalling on using battery storage in a most disgracefull fashion. They are promoting hydrogen as an energy carrier, because this allows the conversion of LNG, methane into H2 hydrogen at plants that wil produce as much CO2 as when you burn it, maybe less NOx, but out of sight of the consumer. It also allows for the destruction of about 60% of renewable energy (if not more) as this form of energy is used to split H2O into H2 and O2. So Hydrogen can slow down the competition of renewable energy considerably while being dangerous and expensive, so while driving industrial fossil energy use.

Part of this overall strategy is to make the lack of storage painfull. The dutch grid operator has openly explained it could not forsee the demand for storage generated by solar/pv/wind. Unlike the hydrogen research community that consumed billions or the fusion research community that also consumed billions somehow the european grid operators could not come up with a vision of integration of solar and wind. They did create a market on which nuclear power was dumped so that wind and solar had a hard time competing. Great strides in storage where certainly NOT made. A close observer can strace new technology into universities where they are often locked up in endless research. Thin film solar is one of those products. It’s not being made at scale, it would be too cheap!

But back to cars. If you for a minute pretend we’re in a fair world and nobody is trying to sabotage our lives, a car that can buffer or transport 100 kWh is a great thing. It is economically speaking the path of least resistance. Especially with new anodes and cathodes in batteries that guarantee incredible cycle lifes because charging and discharging doesn’t degrade them, the utility of a given battery is not maximized in a stationary electric car. The holy grail of battery storage is a chemical process that is perfectly reversible, is efficient and does not leak charge. Hydrogen fails on the efficiency and leaking counts, but some new batteries come pretty close to this ideal.

If your car battery does not degrade from it’s alternative use while you still have a fully capable car then it would be foolish not to use that capacity to accelerate the growth of renewable energy and demise of the fossil/banking sectors. If power grid operators relent and pay for the storage (!!) this could be a way to transition faster.

Another aspect is also important to envision : Roadbots. We wrote about Roadbots a while back. They are coming. Telsa’s full self driving capability when it comes will turn their cars into roadbots, They can have multiple functions : transport people, transport energy, transport all kinds of stuff. We expect production of near bare chassis roadbots will start soon, creating mobile platforms that can do work autonomously almost anywhere. Put a desterious robot arm on your wheeled battery chassis with a couple of tools and you can send these things to fix stuff, if necessary remotely operated.

We are moving into an era where logistics will truely be cost free due to the efficiency and reliability of the vehicles used. Cars and trucks will be like rivers, fed by solar energy and moving around to be used without serious degradation (would be nice to have fully recycleable tires!). This will be part of the Roboeconomy and will greatly help us live weathly lives and fight climate change.