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Electric car 'batteries on wheels' could help solve renewable energy's storage issue

Joseph Flaig in Abu Dhabi

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

Electric cars worldwide will soon have 10 times the total storage capacity of stationary batteries and should be thought of as “batteries on wheels” to solve renewable energy’s storage problem, an expert has said.

Speaking to a small audience of slightly sleepy but engaged industry delegates and journalists at an Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week breakfast briefing, Dolf Gielen from the International Renewable Energy Agency set out his vision for the future of “electromobility”.

Consumers worldwide are embracing electric vehicles, Gielen said. In Norway, half of all cars sold last year were electric, while China, the world’s largest market, is expected to reach 10% next year.

This rapid growth means an abundance of high-capacity batteries sitting in car parks or at the roadside most of the time, Gielen said – but if drivers choose to charge at home, it could also put massive strain on low-voltage, last-mile energy supplies.

“If we do it the wrong way – everybody charges when they come home – we’re going to have a problem,” he said. “We really need smart charging. These cars need to be plugged into the grid, preferably all the time when they are parked, and then there needs to be a box that decides ‘Now is the right time to charge'. There can be incentives to make sure that happens, whether they are price incentives or regulations. That needs to be in place.”

Smart charging could also help tackle a major issue with renewable energy, Gielen said – the massive storage capacity needed to keep grids going when the sun has set and the wind has stopped blowing.

“You can look at these electric vehicles as batteries on wheels,” he said. “Ninety-five per cent of the time they are parked, and we need storage to integrate high shares of solar and wind into the grid, so why not use these batteries? The amount of car batteries, the gigawatts of car batteries, will be 10 times what we have compared to stationary batteries – that’s a lot of battery capacity.”

However, another speaker at the briefing predicted a dramatic shift in mobility and claimed that most people will simply no longer buy cars. Instead, claimed futurist, author and Stanford University lecturer Tony Seba, fleets of autonomous, electric taxis will cover 10 times as many miles as private cars.

“It doesn’t mean there is going to be no ownership at all, people can still choose to pay 10 times more, just like they choose to pay 10 times more for a watch,” he said. “That is all right, they are free – but most transportation will be autonomous, on–demand and electric.”

Our reporter Joseph Flaig is at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. To get in touch with him about a story, email joseph.flaig@caspianmedia.com.


Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
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