Local Luddite Plans Next Vehicle to be High Tech Electric

Buying an electric vehicle (EV) has been on my mind for one reason: human-caused climate change. I am generally slow to adopt new technology, preferring the quiet meditation of hand tools, and choosing to walk and bike as much as possible for the joy of it as well as limiting my energy consumption. Seeing my climate concerned friends jump on the EV bandwagon for quite some time, I sheepishly admit, I have had some good old fashioned ‘green’ keeping up with the Joneses envy. Now that I have been working with Bedford Mothers Out Front on transportation issues, I see the need for every one of us to transition off fossil fuel-based technologies as quickly as possible.

There are a few reasons why I have not yet made the shift to an EV.

  1. The oft-beloved new car smell makes me queasy—really queasy.
  2. The cost, while in the long run cheaper, is not insignificant and our old cars are just now getting to the point of costly repairs. And most of all,
  3.  I have been worried about overloading the electric grid, leading us to even more dependence on fossil fuels to keep up with that demand. I just have not trusted the ‘build it and it will all work out somehow’ argument.  Methane gas, coal and biomass burning have kept a hold on our electric grid because they can fire up at any time, during peak demand and when solar and wind are not productive.

But…things are changing and we have the technology to start addressing this 3rd concern.

With the introduction of Bedford’s Community Choice Aggregation electricity program, we all now have an affordable and trusted way to make sure that 100% of the electricity we use is offset by the creation of new renewable energy sources to power our electric grid. Our individual choices are slowly helping to build up the renewable infrastructure we need (our grid is currently 23% renewable in MA), however, we will eventually need more electricity storage as a necessary part of our shift to clean electric options.

Recently, I learned that the growing number of EVs in our society could become part of a powerful system that can “control the load” of our electricity grid (Lambert, Fred, 2020). Car batteries can spread out the supply and demand by charging during off-peak hours and feeding the grid during peak usage. Such a distributed electric grid would be a huge step towards making our renewable dreams a reality.

We have the technology to make cars part of the solution in managing electric loads and storage, and the best way to do that is to have car companies produce batteries with V2G (vehicle-to-grid) or bidirectional charging. While Tesla has been saying their cars are not intended to be backup generators, they have started making the Tesla Model 3 cars with this capability, and Honda and Nissan are actively promoting V2G. Nissan has employed this in Japan and also has pilot projects in the UK, Germany, and Chile. Up until recently, there was a concern that V2G might negatively impact the battery’s life, but as batteries improve, this presents less of an issue. So, while Tesla is not advertising its V2G capabilities, their inclusion of bidirectional charging appears to be an intentional step toward becoming part of a grid balancing solution—not to mention another source of income for them and those who own their vehicles!

Now I have hope that EVs will not cause unintentional increased use of fossil fuels by overloading the electric grid.  I am also encouraged by the use of car batteries to increase our resiliency as climate change accelerates. Sadly, we must prepare for more power outages as the climate crisis grows—stronger storms, higher winds, and fire. In CA, when the weather is hot, windy, and dry, the electric grid has to be shut down for fear of sparking the next raging wildfire. With the northeast warming faster than any of the other lower 48 states, we too need to build climate resilience (The Climate Reality Project, 2020). EV batteries can currently charge phones, laptops, and rechargeable lamps while the power is out, and as the V2G technology becomes available, they could eventually be used as back up generators—running an entire house for a day or more.

While I will continue to walk and bike whenever possible (and hand grind our grain, scythe the lawn, and chop veggies the old fashion way, with a knife), I see a high tech EV in my future and thank our green trailblazing friends for leading the way. But I will miss my old car smell.

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