Electric cars are more than just cars. They are large batteries.

Joe Biden is a self-proclaimed “Brother Che. “Recently, he became Electric car brother. He hopes that his fellow Americans will also become electric car people.Traffic is responsible Accounting for 29% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, Biden’s ambitious climate policy aims to create Zero net economy In the United States by 2050, part of it will depend on Americans shifting from gasoline-powered cars and trucks to electric cars and trucks.

But Biden ran into obstacles.Although the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed into law in November includes Funds are used to build 500,000 electric car chargers Nationwide, the “Rebuild Better” bill will include thousands of dollars in tax credits to help Americans buy electric cars Stagnation in the Senate The Democrats are trying to find a compromise that satisfies Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who refuses to sign the agreement in its current form.Another challenge is Americans’ perception of electric cars compared to traditional cars: A report from the Pew Research Center in 2021 found that 51% of American adults opposed the proposal to phase out Production of gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

So how can we persuade more people to accept electric cars? One answer may be to make everyone rethink what an electric car is. Most Americans, including Biden, treat electric cars only as a means of transportation-which is understandable because they have engines and wheels that allow us to move around. But they are not just cars: they are batteries, and the purpose of batteries goes far beyond transportation. If done well, integrating electric vehicles into American society will help prevent power outages. Stabilize America’s shaky power grid, And make solar and wind energy a reliable source of energy for more people. The first step is to stop thinking of electric cars as cars that happen to be powered by batteries, and instead think of them as batteries that happen to be installed in the car.

Getting there is not easy. “This kind of cognitive problem can be a challenge because it really is a paradigm shift,” said Sam Houston, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-focused non-profit organization based in Massachusetts. Historically, vehicles have primarily served a single purpose in American society: to transport people and goods from one place to another. In addition to carpooling, the car only serves the owner. Most gasoline-powered cars are idle most of the time when we are at home or at work. But electric cars can do many things when they are not moving.

“What we need to consider is not just the transportation vehicles and the grid that supports these vehicles, but a certain mutually beneficial relationship between the grid and the vehicles,” Houston told Recode. For example, she uses renewable energy as an example: one of the biggest challenges in connecting renewable energy to the grid is its unpredictability.Sometimes there may be too much Wind and solar, and No good storage extra. On the contrary, additional renewable energy is often wasted without being developed. Houston said that electric vehicles can solve this problem.

For example, a car parked next to a charger in an office parking lot on weekdays can optimize its charging schedule so that most or all of the electricity used to charge the car comes from renewable energy sources, thereby making full use of clean energy to waste.

Extensive charging infrastructure can help integrate electric vehicles into the grid a reality.
Drew Angler/Getty Images

Even if there is no clean energy available, electric vehicles can be useful to the grid. Utility engineers constantly adjust the amount of electricity flowing through the grid to ensure that electricity is produced and delivered at a consistent frequency.Too little power generation that cannot meet demand is one of the most obvious reasons for power outages, but too much Power is also a big issue. Kyrie Baker, assistant professor of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, explained that in these situations, electric cars are like sponges.

“If you have a bunch of electric cars parked in a parking lot, they can charge or stop charging in order to make small adjustments to the balance of supply and demand to maintain frequency,” Baker told Recode. Rather than simply fully charge the battery immediately after turning on the power, cars that use a charger for a long time can wait to be charged until the grid needs help to get rid of the excess energy, or they can keep a portion of their battery to help with frequency regulation.

That is just the beginning. One of the most ambitious uses of electric vehicle batteries comes from a concept called two-way charging, which is to send electricity back from an electric vehicle to charge the entire family from a power tool on a construction site to a power outage.

This is especially tempting in more frequent and severe times Power outage caused by extreme weather: It is conceivable that electric car owners can obtain electricity by plugging the car into the charger at home during a power outage-this will eliminate the need for power Sometimes fatal, carbon monoxide gushing Many people currently rely on diesel generators.

Electric car manufacturers began to use this idea as a selling point.Volkswagen’s electric car will support Starting this year with two-way charging, Ford’s upcoming F-150 Lightning is the electric version of the country’s most popular pickup truck. Designed It can power the entire home for up to three days.One Early advertising F-150 Lightning fighter, released after about three months after a series of tests Winter storm In 2021, the state of Texas cut off electricity to millions of people, resulting in hundreds of deaths across the state, demonstrating the qualifications of trucks: it can “help build your house,” the ad’s narrator said, “if needed, strength That house. ”

Marketing seems to have worked; as of December, Nearly 200,000 people F-150 Lightning has been booked. “Ten years ago, I never thought that Ford would launch an electric F-150, nor did I predict how many people would book it, especially in rural and conservative areas,” Baker said. “Climate change is raging across the United States, so whether you believe in the science behind it or not, you want to protect your family. Having a large battery that can be used as a backup generator is just one way to achieve this goal.”

President Joe Biden wears his iconic aviator sunglasses, hands on the steering wheel, looking at the news photographer from the driver's seat of the F-150 Lightning pickup truck.

In May of last year, President Biden drove an F-150 Lightning fighter while visiting the Ford Test Range in Michigan.
Nicholas Cam/AFP via Getty Images

However, not all automakers are as open to two-way charging as Ford and Volkswagen. The batteries in electric vehicles are larger versions of the lithium-ion batteries used in mobile phones and laptops, and they will degrade over time, just like the batteries in our mobile phones-which means that the range of electric vehicles will be Decrease over time. Most electric vehicles come with a battery warranty. If the battery is discharged to power something else, the battery warranty will be invalidated, partly because the battery will continue to charge and discharge to degrade the battery faster.

Baker is not as worried about degradation as some others in the industry. “Every time I have these conversations with people on two-way charging, I always get rejected because it reduces the performance of the battery,” Baker told Recode. “But if you look at how often people in the U.S. change their cars, I don’t think it will be an obstacle. As far as the life span of cars is concerned, I think we are exaggerating it.” Americans tend to keep their cars. 12 years On average, electric cars often enter the used car market A long time ago Their batteries are seriously degraded.

Even if the battery performance is too poor to be used in a car, the battery can still be used. Houston told Recode that once they can only hold about 80% of their original capacity, this is still a lot of energy, and they are often considered too degraded. “We really need to figure out the perspective of reuse and recycling after the vehicle is completed. There may be a lot of remaining capacity in the battery,” Houston said.

One possible solution-and another reason for seeing electric cars as more than just vehicles-is that old electric car batteries can be taken out of the car and used to store solar and wind energy. The idea already has some appeal: a startup called B2U Storage Solutions has built an energy storage facility in California that can store enough energy in 160 used arrays. Nissan Leaf Battery It supplies power to more than 90 homes every day.And modern is cooperate Working with a solar developer and a utility company serving San Antonio, Texas, to build a similar facility.

Baker said that the next step is obviously to solve the degradation and recycling issues at the same time by establishing a process, so that electric vehicle owners can easily replace old batteries, just like replacing mobile phone batteries. These degraded batteries can then be sent to energy storage facilities in California.

Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained that at the technical level, it is fairly easy to reuse electric vehicle batteries for non-transportation purposes. The same cable that powers the electric car can be used to extract energy from the battery and used to power the home. But in the US energy policy and logistics, the situation is more complicated. Most homes are not connected to receive backup power during a power outage — Ford’s own website includes a warning that backup power can only work if the “home is equipped with the proper” switch that disconnects the house from the grid. Just as many parts of the US grid do not integrate solar and wind energy into regular operations, it does not have the equipment to harvest energy from electric vehicles when needed.

Jacobs told Recode that the main problem is that utility companies have historically monopolized the country’s energy production, and they are unwilling to give up their literal and metaphorical power. “It really boils down to the enthusiasm of utility companies to solve it,” Jacobs said. “And whether there is any value in their time spent on it.” In terms of profit, utility companies seem to have no reason to do so.

Baker told Recode that one of the most obvious examples of U.S. power companies’ excess power generation comes from solar panels. For the safety of operators, utility companies set up circuits in most homes to simply shut down in the event of a power failure, even if backup power is available. “If you have rooftop solar, it is likely that your rooftop solar will not be able to power your house during a grid outage,” Baker said. “This is a big problem because people think they will power their houses during a power outage when they buy solar energy.” Baker explained that in order for rooftop solar and backup power for electric cars to work during a power outage, homeowners must put their panels on Connecting an electric car charger to a circuit different from the energy provided by the utility company is a costly proposal that would undermine the benefits of connecting electric car batteries to the grid.

But we didn’t Choosing between the grid and the backup power source for electric vehicle batteries: They can coexist, and effectively integrating them can have a significant impact on emissions. “The technology is here,” Houston said. “This is a matter of breaking down policy and administrative barriers.”

Breaking down these barriers will help us produce a paradigm shift in our perception of power generation, just as using a car as a battery will be a paradigm shift. Electric cars are by no means a panacea to solve our climate problem-there are many sources of greenhouse gas emissions besides cars. If our electric cars get energy from fossil fuel power plants, the reduction in traffic emissions will only stop there. But theirs The potential goes far beyond their wheels, and more Americans realize that this may mean that more people decide to switch to electric. Saving our planet requires big and bold changes; buying batteries that happen to provide transportation services is a rare tangible contribution that ordinary people can make to help solve the climate crisis.

“In reality,” Jacobs said, “all of this is important when we talk about abandoning fossil fuels.”

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