Is your garage dumb?
The garage of the future connects cars, buildings and power companies
Is your garage dumb? If it’s located in the United States, it likely is. No offense.
The Smart Garage isn’t really a place. A term coined by the Rocky Mountain Institute, it’s a metaphor for the space where cars, buildings and the electric grid intersect to produce renewable energy.
It would look something like this: You drive an electric vehicle. You recharge it by plugging into your home, building or parking lot that is powered by renewable energy. Your car would have two-way communication with a utility company—kind of like if OnStar were NV Energy—that would give the utility permission to take an agreed-upon amount of excess energy from the vehicle and feed it to the grid. You’d be compensated in cash or energy credits. With your car basically acting as a battery for the grid, you’d also be helping to relieve the grid during peak power times.
But before that happens, there needs to be more electric vehicles and charging stations on the road, more incentives to get them, as well as more buildings powered by wind and solar energy. And we need a “smart grid” capable of that two-way communication. Measures are underway to make it happen. The stimulus bill has allotted more than $11 billion to build a bigger, smarter electric grid and provide tax credits of $2,500 to $7,500 for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. A utility company in Oregon has noted the potential for plug-in vehicles to help provide power during peak load times. And in January, the city of Newark, Del., became the first electric utility to allow a two-way flow of energy between vehicles and the grid.
Community organizer Bob Tregilus of the Alternative Transportation Club has been trying to create a grassroots demand for policies needed to make the smart garage a reality. He thinks those policies should focus on Renewable Energy Payments rather than Renewable Energy Credits (REC).
“REPs would give you and me the opportunity to be like [geothermal company] Ormat,” says Tregilus. “Electric vehicles are coming, the smart grid stuff is presumably coming. The other piece is turning buildings from energy pigs into energy producers with effective renewable energy policy.”
He says countries with the most renewable energy success, such as Germany, have feed-in tariffs, called REPS in the United States. However, Gainesville, Fla., is the only U.S. city to use REPs rather than RECs. Under NV Energy’s RenewableGenerations program, Nevada’s current incentives provide rebates for solar, wind and hydroelectric power to a limited number of applicants. Tregilus says that while helpful, this also hampers renewable energy development because consumer demand isn’t being met. For example, the limit for SolarGenerations rebate applications was reached in 38 minutes this year.
“The legislation allows a certain amount of kilowatts to be used every year,” says John Hargrove of NV Energy. “I guess you can look at that as an inhibitor to the market, but there’s around 350 installations that have been done in the state, and we’ve paid about $7.7 million [in rebates since the program started] and have over 2 megawatts connected under this program. In absence of this rebate program, a huge percentage of that would not have happened.” He adds that there’s value in looking at REPs and other options, “but that would very much be a legislative decision.”