FedEx Tests Electric Vehicles as Future Energy Storage
If more Americans fall in love with the electric car, the country will need a smarter power grid capable of handling all the new plugged-in vehicles. Luckily, FedEx has begun to prepare by using some of its electric vehicle fleet to test out that future.
Electric cars and hybrids add to the demand placed on power grids when they plug in to recharge. But the vehicle batteries can also add to the grid's overall energy storage, which means that utility companies could more flexibly store energy from renewable sources such as solar or wind power. The batteries may also help the grid store extra energy for use during the greater demand periods.
"There's an opportunity by energy companies to use [vehicle] batteries to manage off-peak energy," said Dennis Beal, vice president of global vehicles for FedEx Express. "We have tests going on right now that I can't talk about."
Beal spoke during a panel session about electric vehicles at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C., on March 1.
The prospect of a clean energy future tied together by electric vehicles and a smart power grid also interested Mike Granoff, head of oil independence policies for Better Place. His company aims to deploy networks of battery-switching stations for electric vehicles around the world.
"The wind that comes tonight will go into batteries in our cars and can offset peak energy during the day," Granoff said. "One way to get a clean energy grid is to put cars on the grid and use them as storage for renewable energy resources."
FedEx has enlisted outside companies to develop prototype all-electric delivery vans. The express delivery service currently operates at least 330 hybrid diesel-electric or gas-electric vehicles, as well as 19 all-electric vehicles.
The vans also require bigger batteries than the average electric car, and so FedEx wants to see the battery costs go down before it can commit to buying even more electric vehicles. Given the roughly 100-mile range allowed by today's batteries, Beal estimated that FedEx could have 30 percent of its ground vehicles operate as all-electric.
Still, Beale sounded optimistic about battery costs going down in the near future. He pointed to progress over the past few years as evidence.
"I can buy a vehicle with a battery today for close to what I was paying for a battery three years ago," Beal said.