Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Blackouts a reminder of the potential advantage of Vehicle-to-Grid power supply

NYU Langone Medical Center:

At times with only flashlights to illuminate the way, NYU Langone Medical Center began evacuating about 260 patients, carrying some of them down 15 flights of stairs to awaiting ambulances ready to take them to the safety of other hospitals.... 
But between 7 and 7:45 p.m. Monday, the hospital's basement, lower floors and elevator shafts filled with 10 to 12 feet of water, and the hospital lost its power, according to Dr. Andrew Brotman, senior vice president and vice dean for clinical affairs and strategy.
"Things went downhill very, very rapidly and very unexpectedly," Brotman said. "The flooding was just unprecedented." 
Emergency generators did kick in, but two hours later, about 90% of that power went out, and the hospital decided to evacuate patients.
I wrote a while back about an idea I'm researching of using electric vehicles to supplement backup power during blackouts, a bridge to the truly big idea of Vehicle-to-Grid battery power storing energy from intermittent renewable sources, for release when needed.  This article suggests another reason for EVs as additional power backup - in case your emergency generators fail.

Hospitals strike me as pretty power-hungry, so I'm not sure how long EVs could support them, but you could probably triage crucial uses and cut off the rest.  Any extra time would likely be appreciated.

Somewhat related - I attended a lecture by a Japanese consular official last summer on recovery from the tsunami.  He said that electric networks took only days to get back online, while gasoline supplies took weeks.  The implication is that a system relying more on EVs than gas engines will be more resilient.  Unfortunately we have another chance to see how that plays out here, albeit on a much smaller scale of tragedy.

UPDATE:  as of Saturday Nov. 3, it appears that power is coming back faster than fuel supplies.


Anonymous said...

But where are the vehicles located? Are they in underground car parks or surface parking? If so they'll be flooded and useless. It's harder to secure a parking lot than a generator vault.

V2G is a poor starting point for an emergency backup system for users like hospitals.

It might be a nice feature for EV buyers sitting out in the suburbs; they can watch a movie and run the fridge while waiting for the grid to come back. Of course it will require wiring changes to the house, and they're trading their mobility for power at home.

V2G backup capability (in this case, V2G is a misnomer) might be a nice additional feature for EV buyers, but I wouldn't consider it a particularly good backup system or a strong argument for electrifying transport.


carrot eater said...

this might be a handy feature at times, but hardly something you'd want to rely on. you wouldn't get very far. literally - your vehicle would also end up out of juice.

J Bowers said...

I saw in comments, somewhere yesterday, how someone used their Prius to run and charge electrical items, including a fridge, during Irene last year. Wish I'd bookmarked it. Not exactly hospital scale, but seems relevant.

David B. Benson said...

I'm dubious.


If you must attempt to recharge flashlight with a Fisker, be sure to wear eye protection and grounded chain mail.

Sixteen of the sporty things shorted out in salt water and melted down on the Newark docks

Who says you can't fire up a car with seawater ?

John said...

I thought that the idea was to have an electric car, which run on its battery during the day, and recharges the battery from the grid at night.

Now Brian is voicing support for having the electric vehicle serve as a backup for the grid. If this happens at night, that's when you're planning to have energy flow the other way, from the grid to the vehicle. If you have driven your car during the day, the battery may be depleted (or nearly so) by nighttime.

i have a better use for an electric vehicle: get in your electric car and drive somewhere else, where they still have grid power.

David B. Benson said...

What John wrote.

Hank Roberts said...

Oh, it's just more of the same:

"This looks just like golf cart fires we have down here,” said Baker. The suburban Houston area has approximately 50 golf cart fires a year, he said."

One reason alternating current is safer than direct current even at higher voltage: the AC voltage goes to zero sixty times a second and a short may just stay warm. A DC short gets steadily hotter (and the hotter it gets the more voltage it conducts, and so it gets hotter).

One reason for the current international aviation ban on shipping lithium batteries on passenger aircraft.

Brian said...

If you're maximizing your reliability of backup then don't rely solely on EVs. Also, don't rely solely on generators. Use both.

Agreed that underground parking could be a problem during floods. However, not all underground garages would flood, and not all blackouts occur because of floods.

While it could be nice to drive to a different area where the grid works, that's less feasible if you happen to be a hospital or a water utility, or if the blackout is short-term.

Nissan Leaf has a vehicle to house charger system popular in Japan. Questionable whether it makes more sense than buying a generator. Scale up to a few dozen EVs per building with a generator already present, and you may have reason to plug in.

Finally yes, the power comes at a cost of mobility, but this gives you an option that you don't otherwise have.