UW researchers explore idle electric vehicles as mobile generators

University of Waterloo researchers are investigating the power of idle hydrogen fuel cells as mobile generators for the aging power grid.

The research builds on vehicle-to-grid technology, which uses special chargers to take unused energy from electric fuel cell vehicle batteries and put it back into the power grid. Researchers at UW said it could be used during weather-related outages and reduce energy demand during peak times.

The team examined Alberta’s energy demand during rush hour for its simulations. Dr. XiaoYu Wu, the lead researcher and a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, said Canada’s power grids needs upgrading and Alberta’s is higher than other provinces.

“Most power is supplied by fossil fuels which results in high carbon emissions,” said Dr. Wu in a press release. “The need to rapidly adjust generators to meet fluctuating demand is one of the reasons that the grid price is unstable and volatile. This creates the potential for clean energy storage to flatten the demand and price of electricity.”

The research proposes having drivers who use electric vehicles rest them during rush hour, plug them into a hydrogen charging station and connecting the idle fuel cells to the power grid. According to the team, the results include less traffic on highways, a cleaner way to store energy and reduced energy use during peak times.

“Hydrogen fuel cells offer advantages over other fuels like batteries which require more investment and pollute more when you dispose of them,” said Daniel Ding, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo. “Our preliminary findings show that using existing fuel cells in electric vehicles of the future can decrease costs on the grid.”

The team notes this could be used for other heavy trucks and vehicles, such as trains.

The team’s next steps are to test their preliminary findings in the lab and the field to see how applicable it is in the world.

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