With the hybrid and electric vehicle revolution underway, what will be the next step for commuters who want to help the environment?
Engineers at the University of Technology Sydney may have the answer with their plug-in Toyota Prius capable of returning energy to the mains grid.
The 'Switch' prototype Prius adds an additional lithium iron phosphate battery pack which can store power from a household power point. Unlike traditional plug-in hybrids though, the Switch can also return that power to the grid to help out household supplies in periods of high power demand.
Dubbed Vehicle-To-Grid, or V2G technology, the system would allow storage of power during off peak-times. During peak loads, the Switch can replenish the grid thus helping to stabilise the load on energy suppliers. Plug in enough Switch Priuses (or is that Priui), and they could collectively reduce grid failures, such as blackouts.
Project research Consultant for the Switch plug-in, Josh Usher described how the system can be used to balance out the power draw from a growing number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles expected to come online.
?The car can be plugged into a grid synchronous inverter, commonly used in solar PV rooftop systems, and you can simply flick a switch to begin feeding energy from the battery pack into the grid.?
?Moreover, the car?s fuel economy is highly dependent on driving style. In Sydney, I?ve been able to achieve a fuel economy of under 1 l/100 km for distances up to 40km with careful driving.?
?We have been working on plug-in hybrids for a few years now, and we are also involved in a collaborative research project entitled the Intelligent Grid. It seems logical to combine our research in electricity grids with our research in electric cars by making vehicles fully grid interactive.? Usher said.
Carmel Tebbutt, NSW Deputy Premier, sees vehicles such as the Switch having an important two-pronged role in the future of the state. Not only in reducing the State's carbon emissions but also for their potential to reduce the need for additional power stations and associated infrastructure.
?You could envisage a world in the future where many people have these cars and there is an opportunity to say ?tomorrow we need everyone to feed their cars back into the grid?, and that will help us address a power need on that particular day,? Tebbut said
Already the NSW government is looking to establish a ?feed-in? tariff by mid-year to spark demand for V2G technology. Currently the Switch is undergoing a trial in the government fleet.
With greenhouse gas emissions cut by around 2.8 tonnes per year and running costs as low as 50 cents per day the V2G technology certainly hold some promise.
Could it be that the cities of the future will be powered, in part, by cars like the Switch? If this is the way forward, we?ll be sure to keep an eye on it.