Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

Socialized gasoline: The bureaucratic miracle of Vehicle-to-Grid

Jerry Stratton, April 25, 2013

Flag policy during the 1973 oil crisis

Imagine a world where Shell Oil is running out of gasoline for the week and needs more in order to keep some of their biggest clients’ fleets running. So they go around to every home in the neighborhood overnight, siphon off half of the gasoline they find in everyone’s car, maybe leave a couple of bucks on the doorstep, and then sell that gasoline to their clients.

You wake up in the morning and need to get somewhere, but your car doesn’t have enough gasoline and all you have is some money to refill it—but how do you get it refilled in time?

Wind-generated electricity has a lot of problems. One of the biggest is how unreliable it is. Because of that unreliability, and because it doesn’t generate a whole lot of power to begin with, it is best used to supplement existing power sources, but unfortunately wind tends to be most abundant when supplemental energy is least needed—at night.

Storing wind energy for later use means massive arrays of batteries, but batteries come with their own problems, mainly that they need to be recycled and replaced often; wind energy is already environmentally iffy enough and on the edge of being too costly to be worth it; add in the need to safely dispose of the hazardous chemicals in batteries and the cost of replacing batteries regularly, and it rarely makes economic sense to replace fossil fuels with wind.

Somewhere along the line, someone must have had the brilliant idea of finding a way to take batteries off of the books. I suspect initially it went something like, make homeowners and renters pay for the batteries and their replacement; and then the costs can be ignored as just another part of buying property.

But how to convince people to pay the massive expense and time of buying huge batteries, maintaining them, and properly disposing of them?

I wonder when the first person tasked with solving that problem took a look at the battery arrays used in electric cars and had a light bulb go off.

On the surface, using electric cars to make use of wind energy isn’t that bad of an idea. For most people, after all, electric cars need to be charged up overnight, contrary to most other power uses. It’s very much a solution (wind energy) in search of a problem (cars that take lengthy times to “fill” in order to make short trips) but it makes a vague amount of sense as long as you don’t look too closely at it and its alternatives.

But who but a bureaucrat could decide it’s a good idea to pull power back from cars and into the grid? That’s the concept known as “Vehicle to Grid”. As a voluntary project it’s the kind of distributive thinking that could make power more reliable—if it could be designed simply, which it almost certainly can’t. As a top-down requirement, it’s the kind of centralized thinking that makes big government the pejorative it is. To make it more palatable, they’ve even had to rename your vehicle: you no longer drive a car, you drive a Mobile Energy Resource in Grids of Electricity. The hope, I’m guessing, is that you don’t start thinking about how you’ll need to replace your battery even more often because it’s going through more cycles.

Federal gasoline coupon

To my knowledge, these coupons were never used, only contemplated. It would have been a lot easier if they could just pull the power back.

EV can potentially be an attractive form of responsive demand that can be used to provide operation flexibility. It has to be noted that this new type of flexibility will compete with other conventional sources of flexibility (flexible generation, transmission, storage and other flexible demand). This flexibility takes a more prominent role due to forecast uncertainties and variability related to intermittent generation (as wind) and demand, which are expected to increase the need for flexibility in future power systems.

Some people seem to think this is a connected conspiracy: that electric cars are being pushed specifically to push the battery costs of wind power onto consumers. I doubt it. The logic seems to run that subsidizing electric cars is a bad idea, so there must be some deeper reason for it, and that deeper reason is to shore up the bad idea of subsidizing wind energy. But Occam’s razor says that if governments are willing to implement one bad idea for no good reason, there’s no need to come up with convoluted reasons for why they’re implementing other bad ideas.

It will also grant whoever controls the grid the power to control mobility. For the plan to work, they need to “control EV charging to shift demand from peak to off-peak and reducing the charging power”. They need the ability to control when charging happens built into your car and the electrical grid. The charging systems will need “communication protocols etc.” to enable central control.

The development of these solutions requires a strong engagement of several parties, such as government, regulatory and standardization bodies, power system utilities, automobile manufacturers, etc.

Note who’s missing from that list, consigned at best to “etc.” Centralization is always going to provide centralized bureaucracies with opportunities for control, something that centralized bureaucracies are always on the lookout for. And once the power exists, it’s going to be used. Given the power to do wrong, a government will always take it. Vehicle-to-grid will inveritably be used to take power—both kinds—from the less-connected and give it to the more-connected.

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