Electric vehicles and microgrids: they need each other

Achieving the targets set by the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95% by 2050 has proven to be challenging due to many characteristics of energy systems as complex socio-technical systems. At the same time as for the energy sector a shift from fossil resources to sustainable, renewable energy applies also to the transportation sector. The current transportation sector roughly accounts for 1/4 of the total consumption of fossil fuels. To achieve the (European) energy goals for 2050 and beyond both sectors need radical changes. The expectation is that energy and transport systems will be more and more interwoven. Both sectors have not only similar environmental goals but they do need each other to achieve them. Electric mobility can serve then not only the transportation sector but also support the operation of future energy system with large-scale participation of renewable energy sources.

We all know electric vehicles (EVs) and microgrids as emerging concepts which are expected to replace the conventional transportation and energy systems with more efficient and flexible ones. In microgrids local sources of energy like solar serve local loads. After the optimal combination of generation and storage capacity minimizing cost and CO2 emission is decided still a question remains how to operate such a microgrid taking into account variability and uncertainty of sustainable energy sources. Load shifting and demand response based on weather forecasting can support efficient and resilient operation, in which electric vehicles, including plug-in EVs and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) can play an important role. Plug-in EVs can adapt their charging behaviour to the needs of the microgrid, and similarly they can act as storage by charging their batteries for example, when there is a surplus of renewable energy. Fuel cell cars (FCEVs) offer more; while parked, and this is more than 90% of time, they can produce electricity from hydrogen to deliver it directly to the microgrid or to the storage to be used in times of the generation shortage.

Challenges in the field of energy and transportation transition ask for interdisciplinary approaches for designing where not only designing technical solutions according to the latest technology is central, but at the same time addressing new business opportunities and legal, ethical as well as social expectations and requirements is taken into account. An effective approach for transition of energy and transport sector requires intelligent combinations of technological, economic, legal and social interventions.

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Image: Fuel cell car used for testing the vehicle-to-grid system in the project “Car as Power Plant” at the Delft University of Technology with researchers on electric mobility and microgrids.

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