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Economy in Electric Transportation

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Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors is about to raise up to 178M$ of additional venture capital in order to develop fully electric cars for real use, not just for people who have a different roadster for each day of the week. Although the IPO was successful, analysts warn that Toyota, GM, Mitsubishi and other existing automakers may be surprisingly close to mass producing affordable electric vehicles for the masses. So I might finally get one, given that the tax authorities and customs officials do not curb all innovation like what happened years ago to one Saab Sonett III I wanted to register in Finland.

Many energy companies are now building different kinds of demo charging stations in a bid to prove that they’re ready when new electric cars start to proliferate. However, most of these stations are just sockets on the street corners without user authentication or even rudimentary metering or payment systems.

At traditional gas stations, energy (fuel) is measured and charged accurately and people know instantly how much they are paying for it. With electric cars, this accuracy should naturally continue, which means that the existing electricity distribution infrastructure must quickly evolve.

It is not just nature that benefits from potentially carbon free driving. When the electricity grid gets smarter, electric cars create exciting new prospects for energy companies and, say, parking space providers.

Imagine a parking lot with space and chargers for 10.000 cars. Each car has a battery of, say, 24 kWh, which can be either charged or discharged at times, depending on the contract the car owner has with his or her electricity company, who in turn is cooperating with the parking space provider. This means that the parking lot becomes a massive energy storage unit with maximum capacity of 240MWh, which is comparable to oil or gas fired ‘peak power’ stations energy companies must operate in order to deal with sudden changes in electricity supply and demand.

So a new kind of parking contract could give you an option of free parking, with the reservation that one out of ten times you park, your battery might not be charged full as some of its energy was sold off in a peak situation.

However, before this kind of new ‘traffic sourced’ electricity economy takes off, we need to acknowledge that the Smart Grid needs accurate measurements down to minute level. Or would you buy your gasoline in 100 liter chunks, with price estimates only?

//Pasi

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