Chevrolet believes it has a way to load a lithium-ion battery with renewable energy. The question, though, is whether the automaker's new technique, or any similar method, will produce meaningful results.
Last week, Chevy announced that it was teaming with GM's OnStar subsidiary and with PJM Interconnection LLC to create a service that would manage the Volt's recharging, depending on how much renewable energy is available on the grid. In the service, which hasn't been officially introduced, OnStar would grab PJM's renewable energy forecast off the OnStar cloud and use it to direct the car's recharging process.
The biggest question surrounding Chevy's plan to load lithium-ion batteries with renewable electrons is whether the plan is meaningful. Shown here is the 2012 Chevy Volt.
"Owners wouldn't have to do anything," OnStar spokesman Adam Dennison told us. "They would just get a notification, either through a mobile app or through email, saying that the renewable energy is now available."
Because the service is sure to have great appeal to environmentally conscious consumers, it's likely that other automakers will follow suit. Still, there's that big question: Is it meaningful?
To better understand the app, it's best to look at PJM's Renewable Energy Dashboard. The company, which manages electric power systems serving 60 million people in 13 states and the District of Columbia, offers an up-to-the-minute wind power graph on its Web-based "dashboard." Using data from the graph, the OnStar app would decide when renewable energy is plentiful, and then it would direct the recharging process.
But in today's fossil-fuel-heavy energy diet, renewable energy is rarely plentiful. As this article was being written, PJM's wind power graph showed about 500MW of availability -- a paltry sum compared to the total demand.
"You'd expect our peak demand to be about 100,000MW on a day like this," PJM spokesman Ray Dotter told us on Jan. 26. That means the PJM wind power figure represents significantly less than 1 percent of the peak demand.
At the Electric Power Research Institute, the news wasn't much better. Engineer Revis James said that between 5 percent and 7 percent of our national energy is renewable. "Even if it's fluctuating around 5 percent, it means that the other 95 percent is going to be nuclear, coal, and natural gas, depending on where you are."