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German power provider to use electric cars to stabilise the grid

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Renewables International

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German green power provider Lichtblick has announced plans to incentivize the charging of electric vehicles at times of low power demand. In doing so, the firm also explains why this is not already happening.

The idea is pretty straightforward: store power in batteries at night, when wind power production can be fairly high but demand is always at its lowest. Otherwise, people will come home from work and a plug in their cars around 6 or 7 PM, when power demand peaks. If that happens, electric mobility will destabilize the grid.

Simple time-of-day rates would solve the problem, but German utilities don’t always offer them. And there is no requirement for owners of electric vehicles to have them (there probably should be).

Now, Lichtblick aims to avail itself of an option in Section 14 a of the German Energy Management Act, which specifies that electric vehicles, heat pumps, and overnight electric heating systems can all function as “controllable consumption equipment.” In that case, the grid fee is reduced.

The power provider estimates that a household’s power rate could be 30 percent lower in such cases, and the cost of charging electric vehicle could drop by “up to 200 euros annually.” According to the press release (in German), the project is currently being rolled out with “a number of test customers,” who will be able to charge their cars at lower rates between 9 PM and 6 PM.

The business model is, however, still a blunt instrument; it does not truly reflect whether excess power is available or not. If the wind is not blowing at night, you still get the incentive, and if a record level of solar power is generated around noon time on a weekend (when demand is low), you have no incentive to charge. Germany still cannot get its head around truly flexible time-of-day rates. The mere mention of retail smart metering draws protest about data privacy.

If the option exists in the law, why hasn’t anyone done this before? The answer is perhaps the most interesting part of the story. Lichtblick says the law does not specify rules for such agreements between power providers and grid operators.

In practice, an energy provider like Lichtblick would have to negotiate complex agreements with each of the almost 900 distribution grid operators in the country towards offering inexpensive electricity for electric cars at private charging stations,” the press release explains, adding that “the tremendous amount of work involved would outweigh the cost savings.”

Germany is now considering upfront purchase price bonuses for electric vehicles, a policy that is pursued in numerous other countries as well, but the German public and numerous German experts remain critical of the policy, pointing out that only the rich would benefit from the bonus as long as electric cars cost twice as much as the new vehicles most people can afford. Furthermore, electric cars are still cars; true progress will come from walkable cities with excellent bike paths.

Source: Renewables International. Reproduced with permission.

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