It’s not exactly Top Gun, but the top brass at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California are aces in my book.
After the University of Delaware proved the concept that electric cars can be used as mobile storage for the grid last month, the air force base rolled out a vehicle-to-grid fleet comprised of 42 electric sedans, trucks and vans to replace their general-purpose vehicles.
These vehicles draw power from the grid as needed and give back to the grid when there is excess energy. The V2G fleet can give back more than 700 kilowatts of electricity to the grid, enough to power 140 homes, according to the US Air Force.
The use of mobile electric storage was first proposed by Willet Kempton, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment at the University of Delaware, all the way back in 1997. He was able to realize his dream when UD rolled out its V2G fleet on a smaller scale using 15 cars, including a lot of Mini Coopers.
The V2G fleet helps the grid operator in demand management by providing temporary energy storage, according to Kempton, enhancing grid security – something that the Pentagon is keen on safeguarding. Grid operators currently maintain spinning reserve capacity – basically power plants that keep running the motors using natural gas but generate electricity only during peak demand. “Operators would like to take electricity out of storage devices and put it back on the electric grid,” he adds, “there is a lot of inherent storage available in electric vehicles, and batteries are the cheapest and most versatile way to store electricity.” The great thing about batteries, we might add, is their inherent flexibility. They are able to respond to sudden surges in electric power demand so much faster than any peaking plant.
Unlike other military projects, this one actually got subsidies from sources other than the Pentagon, including federal, state and even private organizations. The California Energy Commission which chipped in US$3 million.
The US Air Force hopes to make the concept fly in its other bases as well. V2G fleets may soon be seen at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Joint Base McGuire-Dix in New Jersey very soon.
It’s nice to know that the USAF is defending our skies from pollution and greenhouse gases. I guess that they took a page from Tom Cruise as he tried to save the world in an electric car.