In a one-square-mile neighborhood in Austin, Texas the Pecan Street alternative energy project is conducting a real-world test of the viability of alternative energy vehicles, and smart grid technology.
With 60 alternative energy vehicles currently in the study (primarily Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicles) the project’s director Scott Hinson muses, “This is one of the few places where you can see a Chevrolet Volt traffic jam.”
In a statement, Pecan Street Inc. executive director Brewster McCraken explained, “The project is focused squarely on consumers, enlisting real people to gather data from these homes to help structure next-generation energy systems.”
To date, approximately 600 homeowners and commercial businesses have agreed to participate in the project. Participants are required to hook into the smart grid system, and allow Pecan Street Inc. to collect and analyze information about their energy usage. The data collection process is so precise, it can detect when and common low wattage light bulb is turned on.
One sticking point in getting local residents to participate in the project is that they must also agree to have their electric power temporarily interrupted if the demand for electricity becomes too much for the smart grid to handle.
Equally as important as measuring consumer’s behavior is Pecan Street Inc.’s goal of determining the effect of alternative energy vehicle adoption on the nation’s electric grid.
Referring to the grid in a recent interview with the independent public interest research group ProPublica, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman John Wellinghoff said the situation is getting worse, not better.
The additional burden of millions of all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles could have a devastating effect on the country’s already overburdened and outdated electric grid. Hinson says, “The electric car represents the largest electric load introduced into a residential home in the last 50, maybe 75 years.”
The Pecan Street research project has drawn the attention of a number of electric utility, automotive and high tech companies, including Austin-based computer maker Dell, Inc. and General Motors Company. Private partners have invested $14 million, and the U.S. Department of Energy has invested an additional $10.4 million in the project.