How you're going to get your charge on is one of the big issues surrounding hybrid vehicles, and we've already seen technology to charge your car at home using cheaper off-peak rates. But what if you could actually sell the power already in your car back to the electricity company during periods of peak demand?
That intriguing possibility was raised by Professor Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS, during an IBM briefing on sustainable cities I attended today. White argues that once hybrid cars are common and we're used to charging them either at home or at public charging stations, the next logical step will be allowing electricity companies to buy back some of that excess power if the car is plugged in and charging but we're not using it.
"When hybrids become commonplace, you have the ability to have lots of mobile storage," White said, and the next step is for consumers to make money from that storage by resupplying that power to the grid if there's a need for it. That could work both with your home connection, where you might get credit on your energy bill, and when parked at a charging station, where your costs might vary depending on whether you end up being a net consumer or supplier.
"We don't have such a pure line about how the model would work," White said of current research into the concept, though he doesn't think it would just apply at combined charging/parking locations: "We're almost certain that home based charging of private vehicles will be a significant part of this."
There's a delicate balancing act to be struck with this kind of reuse — you don't want to discover that all the power from your car has been sucked unsuspectingly back into the grid when there's a heatwave and you need to make an urgent trip. But as White points out, in a hybrid vehicle you've always got petrol to fall back on anyway. Allowing people to override the "power reclaim" option, while having it switched on by default, would strike the right balance, he said.
The easiest way to sell this to the mass market would be via the potential money saving, I imagine. Even then, the same people who argue against hybrid cars in general would probably also go into a talkback-style rant about how they're not trusting no electricity company with power they've already bought. For anyone thinking more rationally, it's an interesting example of how hybrid vehicles can have more benefits than just cutting fossil fuel consumption.