BY RICHARD NEBEL
In the January 20 issue of the Albuquerque Journal (and also in the Post and the Reporter) LANL laid out its plans for a sustainable future. The article can be found here: LANL is driving toward a sustainable future – Albuquerque Journal (abqjournal.com) The thing that I found the most interesting were their plans for solar powered charging stations for EVs. One thing that solar PV is good at is charging batteries. Issues like intermittent cloud cover are not as serious when all you are trying to provide is an average energy source rather than to provide instantaneous load following. I think the best way to recharge EVs is at work during the daytime when solar can be used.
So what will it take to provide LANL employees with EV charging services? A modern EV typically has about an 80 kW-hr battery. If you are going to recharge that unit while you are at work, you will need a level 2 charger. These put out about 7 kW. Consequently, you will need at least a 10 kW solar PV array to run it. The retail cost for this PV array and level 2 charger (installed) is about $40,000. If these are bought in quantity and installed in a simple configuration, I suspect that cost can be cut to about $20,000 per unit. 2/3 of the 16,000 LANL workforce live off the hill and they will need to recharge 2-3 times per week. Therefore, LANL employees will require about 5000 charging units which will cost about $100,000,000.
That sounds like a lot of money, but when you are going to spread it out over 27 years it’s less than $4,000,000/year. Since LANL isn’t in the business of selling power, I think that a good approach would be to have the Los Alamos County DPU install, own, manage and operate these units. The DPU is in the business of selling power, and this would provide them with a new, substantial revenue stream. Instead of seeking federal money to do this (although that is something that can be explored), I think a better way would be to charge the users for the power. Assuming that gas/diesel vehicles average about 20 mpg and the average commute for an off-the-hill commuter is about 80 miles per day, I estimate that the standard commuter presently is spending about $2400/year for fuel. If using an EV with a solar charger could cut that number in half (which is generally true) then I estimate that the DPU could raise about $19,000,000 per year in new revenue once everything is installed.
I think that this approach has a lot of advantages. First of all, it doesn’t spend tax money and it has a rapid payback. Secondly, by recharging EVs in the daytime it doesn’t aggravate the problems caused by needing to provide power after dark which dominates the grid needs in the residential areas. It would even alleviate the load following problems for PNM that likely presently serves most of the commuters at their homes. Thirdly, it provides a new revenue stream to the county that could help make improvements to the county grid which will likely be needed in the future. Finally, it also offers some major benefits to LANL. This project will provide a 50 MW solar array that will only be used Monday through Friday to recharge EVs. It could be used to power LANSCE or other energy intensive facilities on Saturday and Sunday. Imagine how much good science LANSCE could do if they had 104 more operating days per year.
I think that LANL is taking the right approach by starting small and seeing if the solar powered rechargers work and can be scaled. If this looks promising, then I hope that they can form a partnership with the county and make it a lab-wide program that will benefit both the lab and the community.