Power grid chief touts electric-car payback

U.S. power grid chief Jon Wellinghoff is touting the long-term cost savings of electric cars, saying the vehicles could earn $1,500 a year in paybacks for their owners when their batteries are connected to the power grid.

While planned for U.S. market in the next few years will likely carry heftier price tags than many gas-powered cars, Wellinghoff agued at an investor conference this week that owners of plug-in vehicles will benefit from much lower costs for filling up, cutting down the long term cost of operation.

On top of saving $3 or $4 a gallon on gasoline in future years, Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said grid operators and power companies could reimburse car owners for the battery storage offered by the roughly 22 hours a day that electric cars would be connected to the nation's power system.

"Plug-in hybrids could help stabilize the grid and make money for their owners," said Wellinghoff, who spoke at Knight Capital Group's "Electrifying Transportation" conference for institutional investors on Wednesday.

Wellinghoff, a lawyer who specializes in energy issues before becoming FERC chairman earlier this year, cited positive moves into green energy under President Barack Obama, who addressed climate change in a major U.N.speech this week. Obama elevated Wellinghoff to the FERC chairmanship.

The Obama administration awarded a $529 million government loan to Fisker Automotive to build electric cars earlier this week. Tesla Automotive and others have also received hundreds of millions of dollars under government stimulus programs.

On the heels of other government subsidies, maker A123 Systems Inc. drew strong interest in its Thursday.

While the electric car industry remains in its infancy, proponents of plug-in vehicles expect millions of models on the road in the next 10 years that could collectively add to the nation's power storage capabilities.

Sharing the main points of his chapter in the book "Plug-In Electric Vehicles," edited by David Sandalow, Wellinghoff said growth of solar and wind energy in the U.S. will create a greater need for storage capacity on the grid to smooth out surges in power.

Electric car batteries could help take up the storage slack, along with flywheel systems.

Wellinghoff was joined at the conference by Knight Capital CEO Tom Joyce, who said he drove an electric-powered Tesla before the meeting and it was "possibly the coolest car I've ever been in."

Other speakers included venture capitalists Chelsea Sexton of VantagePoint Venture Partners and Dhiraj Malkani of RockPort Capital.

Speakers at the conference were bullish on investments in the electric-car sector.

Sexton said electric cars are "cool, fast and fun" and that gasoline hybrid cars have managed to capture about 3 percent of the car market.

Malkani said most U.S. consumers adopted quickly to cell phones and GPS systems and that electric vehicles will offer the benefit of avoiding gas stations and fueling at home. "We all could be pleasantly surprised," Malkani said.

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Sep 26, 2009
I think 22 hours a day is pretty unrealistic. You might get that if your employer allowed you to plug in, but then you wouldn't be getting the monetary benefit there. A more realistic time charging at home would be more like 12 hours after you include working and errands etc.

Sep 26, 2009
power companies could reimburse car owners for the battery storage offered

This means those plugged in during peak demand or at work give back to the POCO to stabilize the grid.

Plug-in-car batteries will help run building air conditioners during the day, cycling between drain & charge until unplugged.

Since most batteries deteriorate with each cycle, smart consumers will choose battery leasing options to deal with multiple battery replacements during the life of the vehicle.

Sep 26, 2009

This is what I've been saying for yrs. Aerovironment did the equipment 15 yrs ago. Every EV has a 50-200kw inverter that is easy to make putting power back into the grid. You charge at night on cheap rates and sell at peak rates which is 3-10x's higher.

And yes all good employers will have charging sockets to do just that, probably paid for by the utilities so 22 hrs is real plugged in. Though only the plugged in during peak hrs is critical.

A neat thing about EV's is you can program them to have your car got or cooled in time for your drive.

Most batteries die from age, not cycles.

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