Introduction to Electricity as an Alternative Fuel
Electricity has the ability and, under some scenarios the economic justification to replace petroleum-based transportation and heating fuel. Over the last few years, as heating fuel prices have increased, Alaska has seen communities with cheap hydro-based power move towards greater use of electric space heating. This trend will continue in areas where plentiful supplies of renewable electricity cost less on a delivered BTU basis than heating fuel. In addition to heating, electric-power transportation is an emerging option. There are already commercially available electric vehicles (aka golf carts), and demonstration snow machines, and a proposed four wheeler. As battery technology improves, these vehicles will cost less and show improved range and efficiency. Plug-in electric vehicles may also provide great advantage to small grids that have access to intermittent renewable power. With continued technology development, the batteries of these vehicles may be able to stabilize the grid by drawing or dispatching power whenever there is a supply/load imbalance. This capability would allow small grids to use higher percentages of non-dispatchable renewable power without reducing power quality.
Current electric vehicles (which are the size of compact cars) get about three miles per kW-hour of energy stored in a battery. If the cost of electricity is about $.20 per kW-hr from the electric utility (Fairbanks rates) and the charging is 80% efficient, the energy cost is about equal to that of gasoline at $3.33 per gallon for a compact car getting 40 miles per gallon. Unfortunately, short battery life and high replacement costs add considerably to the cost of operating these vehicles.
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