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Electric car boosts the grid when idle -

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Electric car boosts the grid when idle

AC Propulsion is a company developing a car that not only uses electric power for propulsion but
can be used as a power source for feeding in to power grids. The battery is 35 kilowatt-hours and
can push the car along at 90 miles per hour. When parked, the car responds to commands from the
grid operator and delivers power to the grid. Each car can deliver 10 kilowatts. A hundred cars
deliver a megawatt of power. This is good backup for a power grid relying on intermittent renewable
sources and responds quickly. The economic model allows for handsome financial rewards for the car


Robyn Williams: This is The Science Show on ABC Radio National coming from San Diego and the
American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. I'm in the press conference room
which, as you can hear, there's a tiny bit of buzz going on behind. But weirdly there's a very
large motorcar here in the corner. It's big and white and boxy. It's got something that's almost
like an ABC logo on the side, and it says AC Propulsion Electric. It looks shiny-new and fairly
heavy. Tom Gage, you're based here in California, are you not?

Thomas Gage: That's right, we're based in Los Angeles.

Robyn Williams: Doing what?

Thomas Gage: We build electric vehicle drive systems.

Robyn Williams: Of which this is...what? The latest model?

Thomas Gage: This is actually a three-year-old car we built. It has our drive system in it, it's a
conversion made from a Toyota model sold here in the US. We call it the eBox and if you could see
it you would understand why. And it has a 35 kilowatt hour battery and it goes 95 miles an hour. I
drove it down here from Los Angeles, it was 120 miles.

Robyn Williams: That was powered just on electricity?

Thomas Gage: That's right. I plugged it in the night before and the battery was full when I left,
and when I got down here I still had about 25% left.

Robyn Williams: Well, looking inside...I'm just opening the door, and it looks like a normal car,
there's nothing particularly different except there's a bit of a screen in front of you

Thomas Gage: We have a driver information display that lets the diver know how much battery power
is left, what their efficiency is while operating, it's really no different from some of the info
screens on other cars. This one just has different info.

Robyn Williams: We're going to come around to what is different about this car. Inside, as you can
look at the controls, it seems friendly, natural, but obviously if you're got a three-year-old car
with a press conference there's something different about it; what is it?

Thomas Gage: It's different because it's electric but it's even more different than that because it
has what we call our reductive charger, and that's a trademark name for our charger which allows
current to flow from the vehicle into the grid as well as the normal direction from the grid into
the vehicle. The charger can respond to commands either from the vehicle operator in the vehicle or
from a remote source transmitted to the car over the internet and that's what we're showing here at
this science conference, is that this car is going to respond to commands from the grid operator
out on the east coast of the United States and it will respond accordingly. So when the grid
operator asks for more power, this vehicle will actually put power into the grid. When they ask for
less this vehicle will draw power from the grid as it would normally.

Robyn Williams: Of course the big problem with alternative sources of power such as wind and solar
is that they might be variable, but if you can store in batteries that solves the problem or helps
the problem. If you've got thousands of cars, all with their batteries, all full, and then can feed
back into the grid, there's your answer.

Thomas Gage: That's the general idea, and even though one car makes very little difference, we can
feed about ten kilowatts into the grid. By the time you have 100 or 150 cars you're talking about a
megawatt of power. And the good thing about it compared to other sources of backup power is it is
extremely efficient, extremely clean in the sense of electromagnetic clean, it's very close to the
frequency and waveform that they're looking for. And the response time is measured in fractions of
a second, so it's extremely responsive. That's a new feature that a big generating plant can't
match. So a fleet of cars, and it doesn't even have to be that big of a fleet, can be a big help in
operating the grid and keeping it balanced.

Robyn Williams: It worries me slightly that the internet connection might take it out of my hands.
How do I know that you haven't depleted the car by the time I get in tomorrow morning?

Thomas Gage: The driver has the ultimate say and we're still working out the best interface between
the driver and the grid operator and the other parties involved, but basically the driver will be
able to say, 'I never want my car to be below this amount of energy in the battery,' and he'll also
be able to say, 'I want it to be at this level at this time of day,' so that when you leave work
you can be sure you have 50% or 70% or 100% if that's what you want.

Robyn Williams: There's no question that in California you've got some pioneers in this field.
You're actually based in Silicon Valley, are you?

Thomas Gage: I live in Silicon Valley and I work in Los Angeles, and...

Robyn Williams: So, San Francisco to LA?

Thomas Gage: That's right, it's all one big happy family. We helped Tesla get started, they have a
big presence both in Silicon Valley and some down here in Los Angeles.

Robyn Williams: Tesla is the electric car that goes very, very fast very quickly.

Thomas Gage: That's right, it's a two-seater, all-electric sports car. They've been doing quite
well, selling cars in California and all over the world actually.

Robyn Williams: Of course Arnie, the Governator, has taken a great interest in this, not least the
Tesla, which he's driven. Has he been introduced to your car and your system?

Thomas Gage: Yes, we've met with the governor and he's very interested in promoting this industry
here in California where it's a natural because there's a market here and there's also a great deal
of government interest here.

Robyn Williams: Imagine the future when most people are driving electric cars, what kind of extra
input could those cars give to the grid to keep the system working off renewables?

Thomas Gage: A very big part. One of the problems with renewables is you can't depend on them, so
even though you may have a large capacity for generating renewable energy, you have to be prepared
for the event that that energy hits a cloud or a lull in the wind. But with a battery storage, and
the bigger the battery the more you can depend on it, you can get a much greater utilisation of
that intermittent renewable electricity, and that's the key to really benefiting the grid and the
environment by using as much of that energy as you possibly can. So if you store it in the cars'
batteries and then are able to recall it when you need it, you go much further into reducing the
reliance on other fossil fuels or other sources of electrical energy generation.

Robyn Williams: Okay, I'm a fairly cynical person, I'm not particularly green, why should I bother
to be part of this scheme and offer you my battery's electricity?

Thomas Gage: There are two parts to that question. Actually first is, Why would you buy an electric
car? And my company's goal is to design and build a car that you want to buy because you like the
way it drives and you like the features it has, and that's what we're working on. But once you have
the electric car, why would you plug it into the grid and allow them to sap your batteries at their
will, and the reason is that they will pay you for it, they'll pay you fairly handsomely. You can
effectively cover certainly the cost of your batteries and the cost of your electricity and thereby
just drive the car as if it were a normal car with free fuel.

Robyn Williams: That convinces me!

Thomas Gage: It convinces a lot of people and we're very of the reasons here is we're
presenting with some researchers at the University of Delaware, Professor Willett Kempton who is
doing the leading-edge research on this, and it's our goal and we're very confident that we can
show that these economics are real. And once they are real, there will be a tipping point and
people will say, 'Give me one of those cars.'

Robyn Williams: Apart from, finally, the logo, you've got lots of orange leaves floating around on
the design. What do they represent?

Thomas Gage: You know, there is sort of the tree-hugger aspect to the electric vehicles and these
are our equivalent of racing stripes except they're in the form of leaves, and they're not green
they're orange, so we also want them to be a little bit eye-catching.

Robyn Williams: Thanks Tom.

Thomas Gage: Thank you very much.

Robyn Williams: Tom Gage with his electric car from Los Angeles. More on the practicalities of all
that in a future Science Show.