Electric cars part of a solution for a cleaner electric grid

Electric car story - Louis Mason
Louis Mason/THE

The science of electric cars are a potential saving grace to cut out greenhouse gas emissions, and the university is receiving more and more requests to accommodate such vehicles each year.

Senior Reporter

Carbon emissions from transportation make up nearly one-third of the overall greenhouse gas pollution in the United States. The science of electric cars are a potential saving grace to cut out these emissions, and the university is receiving more and more requests to accommodate such vehicles each year.

There are currently 10 charging stations scattered around the university’s campus, including one behind Hullihen Hall and one in the Perkins Garage, both of which require a permit or are pay-by-plate.

McKay Jenkins, an English and journalism professor, owns a Prius Hybrid. He drives an hour from Baltimore every day, and his car goes 25 miles on a full charge before switching over to gas. By the time Jenkins arrives at school, he needs a place to charge his car. But more often than not, the spaces around campus that have a charging station are already occupied.

“How frustrating is it to have an electric car and have nowhere to plug it in?” Jenkins said.

A lack of charging stations is not the only reason that people may be deterred from buying an electric vehicle. Mike Anderson, a junior communication interest major, owns a 2007 Ford F-250, which gets about 14 miles per gallon. But, his family often takes camping, hiking and boating trips, where his truck comes in handy as a heavy-duty vehicle able to handle dragging along their boat and outdoor supplies. However, most electric vehicles made today are small sedan models.

“I’d be totally down for having an electric vehicle,” Anderson said. “If the technology is there and I can do what I need to do with it, I have no issue with it being electric instead of gas.”

Toyota, the manufacturer behind the hybrid Prius, released a hybrid pickup in 2018, but the wait for a fully-electric truck won’t be long for truck owners like Anderson. The popular electric car manufacturer, Tesla, is set to unveil their electric pickup model, the “Cybertruck,” on Nov. 21 on the last day of the Los Angeles Auto Show. Ford could however become a serious competitor for Tesla. Ford also announced in 2018 that a fully-electric truck was in the works and will be released in 2021.

Some car companies are pledging to produce only electric vehicles in an effort to reduce the amount of carbon emissions produced. Volvo released its first electric vehicle this year, the XC40 Recharge, while also pledging to produce more. By 2025, Volvo’s “ambition” is to sell 50% purely electric and 50% hybrid vehicles.

While electric vehicles would eliminate the need for gasoline and cut out greenhouse gas emissions produced by it, Jenkins says the true solution is deeper than that.

“The question is where’s the electricity [that would charge your car] coming from?” Jenkins said. “You’ve got to also make sure that the source of the electricity is a clean source. Because the last thing we need to do is be powering our cars with coal, which is literally what would happen if you had a coal fired electricity plant. So if you take cars off a gasoline diet and you put them on a coal diet that’s not going to help with climate.”

Willett Kempton, university professor and research director for the university’s Center for Carbon-free Power Integration, agreed that until the entire electrical grid in the United States is clean, electric vehicles themselves will not eliminate the emissions issue.

Kempton is one scientist working on that solution. Earlier this year he pioneered the invention of V2G technology, which uses the batteries from electric cars to power the electric grid. Kempton describes “the grid” as a network similar to the internet, where every point of power is connected through a winding map of power lines. He says that the power from an electric car battery could power an entire household for 40 hours. Any excess power would be sent throughout the grid for neighboring electricity users.

“The grid is this interconnected system which is great because it means if one thing fails, other things will make up for it,” Kempton said. “It also means that I can have storage in my garage, that’s helpful to the entire region.”

Kempton said that in New Castle County, in order to obtain a contract that grants access to the grid, only 12 participants were needed to start contributing. However, the more cars that are contributing to the grid, the more effective the technology will be.

“More interconnection means more reliability,” Kempton said.

Kempton says that the grid is getting cleaner as well. The International Energy Agency released their 2019 Offshore Wind Outlook on Nov. 13. It says that the global offshore wind capacity is on track to increase 15-fold and may become a $1 trillion industry in the next two decades.

“They’re building offshore wind farms now that are big enough to run a third of Delaware,” Kempton said. “Three of those, and you’ve displaced all the electricity in the state.”

The Delaware coast could be expecting some wind farms soon. The Danish wind company, Ørsted, announced in September that they plan to install the world’s largest wind turbines 15 to 20 miles off the coast of Delaware’s beaches. Each turbine would stand 853 feet tall and each blade will be longer than a football field.

Delaware supports renewable energy through the Green Energy Program, which provides grant funding to renewable energy projects through the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

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