25. Swipe a card, charge your car, help the grid!

This show will air at noon Friday October 11, 2019 on PhillyCAM’s radio station WPPM 106.5 LP FM in Philadelphia. Hear the audio anytime. The script is below. Produced by Meenal Raval.


Hello and welcome to Philly Talks Climate — where we talk about the climate crisis, how it affects Philadelphia, and how we solve this for our region. I’m Meenal Raval, and I’ll be your host. Several people assisted me with the research for today’s show — Marion Biddle, Brent Groce and Paul Kydd. 

Last week 

Last week we tried to answer.. What’s keeping Philadelphians from switching to an electric car? Turns out it’s a lack of electric car charging infrastructure. So we developed a primer about electric car charging.  We also followed the story of one family needing to replace their car, who is amazed that they could be driving an emissions free electric car today! May your next car be electric, too! 

We imagined under-utilized parking lots installing public EV charging stations, a project that could also generate revenue for the lot owner. What under-utilized parking lots? We were thinking of congregations, schools, SEPTA lots and municipal lots. 

News You Can Use 

We’ve since found a 2018 report by Penn Environment titled Plugging In: Readying America’s Cities for the Arrival of Electric Vehicles. This report states that we have about 96 public electric car charging stations in Philadelphia, and that we actually need about 1400 of them.  

About 3 years ago, Volkswagen settled with federal authorities for violating emissions laws in thousands of vehicles advertised as low emissions. The settlement included about 3 billion dollars for the Environmental Mitigation Trust, to be distributed to every state, and to be used by each state on transportation projects that reduce pollution. 

Pennsylvania’s portion of the settlement was $118 million, the fifth highest payout in the nation. 

A more recent report, also by Penn Environment, titled Volkswagen Settlement State Scorecard ranks states on how they’ve been using this trust fund. Our state of Pennsylvania was given an F, because, per the report, the funds have “overwhelmingly been spent on dirty climate altering fossil fuel projects instead of clean vehicle technologies”. 

This study comes just weeks after Governor Wolf announced $8.5 million in awards from the settlement, the majority of which are going to new diesel and / or gas projects

Remember, both diesel and fracked gas are fossil fuels and add to our greenhouse gas emissions. Upsetting, right? 

Perhaps a solution? 

In the process, we re-read a research report on electric vehicles by the Institute for Local Self Reliance titled Choosing the Electric Avenue – Unlocking Savings, Emissions Reductions, and Community Benefits of Electric Vehicles

And were reminded of a local startup — V2G Energy, with offices at The Navy Yard.  The V2G in their name stands for vehicle to grid. An excerpt from Wikipedia…. 

Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) is a system in which plug-in electric vehicles communicate with the power grid to sell services by either returning electricity to the grid or by throttling their charging rate. V2G storage capabilities can also enable EVs to store and discharge electricity generated from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, with output that fluctuates depending on the weather and time of day.

Since at any given time 95 percent of cars are parked, the batteries in electric vehicles could be used to let electricity flow from the car to the electric distribution network and back.

This local startup used an Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the PA-DEP, to 

  1. develop software to go with an off-the-shelf EV charger to reduce the stress on the grid imposed by uncontrolled charging. We’ll need this as EVs become the dominant mode of personal transportation; 
  2. get EV owners compensated for it;
  3. provide EV owners with a transparent charging service that ensures their vehicle has at least the required range, and is ready to go when required.

They claim to have proven the concept and are now working with parking lot owners — think multi-unit dwellings like apartments & condos.  And workplaces — companies with parking lots. 

When we reached out to this company’s president, Paul Kydd, to ask whether they could install electric car charging at congregations, schools, and SEPTA lots — that we discussed on last week’s episode —  his answer was a resounding — Yes! They do a lot more than just install a charger. According to them… 

They’re “trying to build a network of managed chargers in Philadelphia that will allow city dwellers to own electric vehicles, charge them with minimal impact on the grid and create a viable business based on the value created for the vehicle owners and the utilities.”

Let’s take this slowly… This company offers a turnkey EV charging system, like many others. What’s different is that they design, then apply for funding from the PA-DEP’s Volkswagen trust fund, and then coordinate an installation. They even setup the software, and work with the parking lot owner. 

The software allows them to specify whether the electricity for the charge is free, or say, 15 cents per kilo-watt-hour. Some parking lot owners want to be reimbursed for electricity, which is understandable. 

The software also allows them to charge for the time the vehicle remains connected, but not charging. So say if a school wants the cars charging overnight to be gone by 7am, they can start charging for each hour the car remains in their lot, A sure incentive for the neighbor to set an alarm and move their car! 

They manage electric car charging to have a minimal impact on the grid, using electricity when it is most available and lowest cost.

Image credit:

Typically, from noon till 10 pm is when most of us demand the most electricity from the grid. The wholesale price (which we don’t see on our bills) is higher during this time of peak demand and lower during the nighttime hours. 

You may have heard that there’s enough sun and wind to power our needs, but that we’ll need to invest in battery storage for those cloudy days and windless nights. 

Well, think about it — each electric car has a battery. This team has been experimenting with aggregating the batteries of many electric cars, and offering these as storage to the grid. 

The software modulates how quickly the batteries are charged, speeding up or slowing down the rate in response to PJM’s requirements. So much better than cranking up a fracked gas power plant, right? 

It also means the actual charging start time can be shifted from right after work to the middle of the night, when there’s a lot of electricity on the grid, and no one using it. 

Often, a car may need only 5 hours of charge, but remains plugged in for 10 hours overnight. The software can adjust the amount of electricity flowing to the car over the 10 hours, letting the car, in essence, sip from the grid. The impact of these adjustments are not actually significant for one car, but with a thousand cars, together, we can help clean up the electric grid!

The experiments run by this team have shown that no one complained about inadequate charging, meaning everyone’s car was ready and charged for the next journey. 

They are currently installing 12 charging stations at Capital Flats in Kensington, and working with a condo developer in Wynnewood Heights

Maybe, we don’t need the City of Philadelphia to incentivize EV charging stations. Or wait for Harrisburg or Washington to save us. 

Maybe, we just need innovative private companies. And, together, we use the VW mitigation trust fund wisely. 

How to Engage on this issue? 

Can you think of a local parking lot near you? One that’s under-utilized? And interested in being a part of this evolving technology? 

Please let us know. We’d like to assess if it’s suitable for a public EV charging station, one with managed charging. Helping the EV driver, the lot owner, the grid, and the planet! 

All at minimal cost to the lot owner. 

Again, we’re Philly Talks Climate, and our email is phltalksclimate@gmail.com

Connect with Others Concerned about the Climate Crisis

If you’re looking to connect with others concerned about the climate crisis, look no further than the 6th annual Students for Zero Waste conference. It’s this weekend on the Penn campus. And brings together 600 students, staff, industry innovators, activists, and community members from across the country. 

The three day event includes student-led workshops, professional trainings, hands-on activity sessions, affinity group meet-ups, and panels covering topics related to waste and environmental justice.

There will be workshops on Environmental Justice, the Circular Economy, Reducing Plastic Pollution, and the larger Zero Waste Movement. Our City has pledge to be a Zero-Waste City by 2035. If you’re curious how we get there, this is a great place to start! 

The organizers want to see more young people at this conference and offer a discounted registration to Philly-based students. Use the discount code of “phillylove” when you register! 

You’ll find details on our Connect page at Philly Talks Climate. 

Closing quote

Today’s closing quote is from Leonard Peltier, and was found in the October 2019 issue of The Sun magazine. 

“Each of us is responsible for what happens on this earth…. Each of us is THE swing vote in the bitter election battle now being waged between our best and our worst possibilities.”

Something to think on each day — before, during and after each election. 

This has been Meenal, at Philly Talks Climate. Thanks for listening! 

Closing song 

Flintstones – Jetsons EV awareness ad / https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/flintstones-jetsons-powers-electric-vehicle-awareness-ad/314567

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