When I grew up in the UK, there were often media reports about the National Grid. This was the system across the country that covered the power stations that created electricity and the infrastructure that delivered the power to homes and businesses. The National Grid is in effect a macrogrid – a wide area network.
What I have been reading about recently is the concept of microgrids, localised grids that generate power, deliver it to where it is needed and/or stored ready for use. They have become an effective way of powering a temporary sports or arts events or even for military use around a mobile command base or M*A*S*H.
For “pop up” microgrids, solar panels are used to generate the electricity, batteries – such as the Tesla Powerwall are used to store the power and then local cables laid on the ground to connect all the devices that require it. Microgrids can also be connected to the macrogrid to absorb any over generation.
Microgrids have apparently become big business in the US where the Government has invested in technology to provide power to areas that typically were too hard to get to – for example in the middle of sensitive national parklands or to act as a local power booster. They can also act as a way to help reduce costs by reducing the reliance on other more expensive fuel sources such as diesel. One report I read suggested that today 50% of all microgrids are in the US, however Africa and South America are areas that are rapidly catching up in usage terms.
I could see microgrids as a solution to range anxiety with electric cars. If there was a microgrid installed at every service station on freeways with a high speed charger, a vehicle could plug in and whilst the driver is getting a refreshment, the charging could be completed. If a Tesla Powerwall – up to 10 can be connected at once – or a similar battery system is included in the grid design, it would be possible to power up several cars at once.
For a country like the US or Australia where there are large sections of road without refuelling areas but with abundant sunshine, this would make very good sense and would encourage more electric cars to be used without the need to use a carbon source to power them (coal, petrol, LPG or diesel). I think this would be welcome by the fence-sitters who haven’t committed to electric power.
Certainly, I would see this working alongside biofuels as a better way to generate the power that humans need to stay connected and on the road. If this infrastructure could be installed in every small town or in between at rest areas, the reliance on the main grid would be reduced substantially and the older, less efficient coal-powered generation plants could be closed for good.
If electric cars are to become the norm, every country will have to consider this concept and make it worthwhile for the car owner. If it is too expensive to charge a car using a natural energy source, the market will not grow as fast as Governments and manufacturers want it.