IBM Joins Consortium to Power Vehicles with Renewable Energy

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Danes plan a working model of a large-scale fleet of electric vehicles powered by the wind.

 

Ralph Nader once said that the use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun. Efforts by the Danish government and IBM, however, may eventually lead to renewable energy being within reach of everyone.

 

Since George W. is no longer in office, I can openly confess that I love Ralph Nader. It's not his environmental policies so much that appeal to me; it's his phenomenal quotes that I can use in my articles! A former gal pal of mine was from Cleveland, a city built at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, which, when it suddenly caught fire in the 1960s, helped launch the environmental movement. Nader said at the time that the river was so polluted that if anyone had the misfortune to fall into it, they would likely dissolve before hitting bottom. Since then, the city has cleaned up the Cuyahoga, and today it's vastly improved from back in the '60s. The cleanup is a confidence builder for the task we have ahead of us in slowing climate change.

 

If you visit the Greenpeace Web site today, you will see examples of environmental activists demonstrating against coal-fired power plants. I found this somewhat surprising and a bit disappointing, because if the U.S. is still rich in any natural resource, it's coal. We have enough coal to last us for the next two centuries, but if we can't use it, then what? What Greenpeace is advocating is using wind and solar energy, and I'm beginning to get the message. Other countries figured this out awhile back, and Denmark, it turns out, already gets 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, such as wind. The problem is, how do you get wind to power up your F150--put a propeller on it? As someone once said, considering all the things that oil is used for (from plastic to medicines), it's a shame to waste it in vehicles.

 

IBM today is working with the Danes to help get the electricity generated by wind turbines into the electric cars used to carry little Danish boys and girls down to the bakery, where they can fill up on Danish cookies. Denmark happens to be the most energy-efficient country in the European Union and will host the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

 

The Danish consortium of researchers that IBM is joining is appropriately called EDISON, which, in this case, stands for "Electric vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated market using Sustainable energy and Open Networks." The consortium's goal is to establish an "intelligent infrastructure" that will make it possible to field a large and diverse fleet of electric vehicles powered by sustainable energy. One can't help but wonder, "Why don't we have such a thing already?" If you ever watched the documentary called "Who Killed the Electric Car?," which is about the influences that came together to doom General Motors' EV1, then you realize that we haven't been ready for the electric car--until now.

 

The Danes have a goal of making 10 percent of the country's vehicles into electric or at least hybrid vehicles. The government is helping to fund the research on how to do it. The EDISON consortium is comprised of, in addition to IBM, DONG Energy (the regional energy company of Oestkraft), Technical University of Denmark, Siemens, Eurisco, and the Danish Energy Association. What they will be working on is a large-scale system supported by smart technologies to control vehicle charging and its associated billing and to ensure the stability of the overall energy system.

 

One of the problems with renewable energy is that its production is unpredictable. Some days it's windy; some days it's not. What's needed is a way to grab the electricity when it is generated and reduce demand when it's not--not such an easy task and one that has been addressed to date by having a fossil fuel-powered energy plant available as backup. Allan Schurr, IBM vice president of strategy and development at the company's Global Energy and Utilities practice, was scheduled to testify before Congress this week at the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. His message was that smart-grid technologies are already available and can deliver substantial improvements in efficiency. What's holding back the technology adoption in the U.S. are regulations and institutional inertia. While smart-grid technologies aren't required to make larger use of wind and solar power, they can make them less expensive, according to Schurr. By addressing the variable nature of power generation, smart-grid technologies help handle supply and demand in real time.

 

The Danes are putting their efforts into a real-world experiment on the island of Bornholm, where researchers from IBM Denmark and IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory will apply smart technologies that will synchronize the charging of the electric vehicles with the availability of wind in the grid. IBM also provided to the Technical University of Denmark the hardware platform that will be used for large-scale, real-time simulations of the energy system and the impact of electric vehicles.

 

It strikes me as somewhat disappointing to learn that while our own General Motors is putting all its efforts into figuring out how to justify obtaining a huge loan from the federal government to pay the rent on its headquarters building--and the government in turn is figuring out how to borrow the money to lend to General Motors and other car makers--other countries such as Denmark are moving ahead with an actual working model of a large-scale vehicle fleet powered by renewable energy. Unless someone has invented an atomic car that I don't know about, it seems remotely possible that this just might be a glimpse into the future of how I'm going to be driving to Momma's house for Easter. But will I be driving a Danish car?

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