Cars powering homes? It could be the future for P.E.I. energy, says prof

The P.E.I. Legislature's special climate change committee heard Thursday from Willet Kempton, a University of Delaware professor who is developing and touting cutting-edge energy technologies.

He is working on solutions using electric vehicles to store wind-powered electricity, to act as battery packs when the power grid needs more energy.

Kempton told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier he is here to discuss the potential of more and better wind-generated electricity on the Island.

"Huge wind potential, it's amazing," he said, noting he is impressed by P.E.I.'s wind regime. 

While wind electricity is only generated when the wind is blowing, Kempton is working on ways to store that energy for future use.

"It's nature that is determining whether you are getting more or less electricity and that may not match to when you want to use it, when you need the lights or heater," Kempton said.

Cars being plugged into the grid

Kempton said in the past, wind energy has been stored in large, expensive batteries that are out of reach for individual consumers. He's suggesting power can be stored in batteries people are already using, or will be — like electric cars. 

David Donnelly/CBC

"What I've invented, and we've been working on at the University of Delaware — now it is starting to be in a number of places — is using batteries we've already got," he said. "The battery in your car, if you've got an electric car, that is a valuable resource."

Kempton said when vehicles aren't in use and are already fully charged — when owners are sleeping or at work, for instance — there's an opportunity to feed stored power back to the power grid.

He's been experimenting with plugging electric vehicles into homes, and software that will prompt the car to provide power if needed, Kempton said.

"The grid gives a signal and says 'I need a little bit more power,'" he said — this could be in the event of a wind lull, or a sudden surge in demand. 

"The car would discharge from the batteries onto the grid, in the same way that a solar unit puts power on the grid," he explained.

He said a "smart grid" is not needed for this to happen.

Vehicle owners could get paid

He said the potential for income from feeding power to the grid might convince some people to purchase electric vehicles, which are more expensive than traditional vehicles.

Tony Davis/CBC

Kempton also planned to meet with Maritime Electric officials Thursday.

"I'm just going to describe it, so they know a little bit about it and sort of understand what would be needed here to get it going," he said.

Kempton said the idea has been implemented in Denmark and France and is starting up in the U.K. and U.S.

He said currently, electric vehicles need to be adapted to feed power back to the grid. He hopes all electric vehicles will come with that capability in the future.

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