Electric Vehicles Can Help Shape the Future of Andover

Market share and affordability will grow

By Ken Wells

When I was a science teacher, my students and I built a competition Electric Vehicle (EV) based on a Ford Ranger 4×4 and campaigned it very successfully in the American Tour de Sol from about 2002 to 2008. The yellow truck (named “Woodstock” after Snoopy’s little bird friend) was equipped with solar panels that worked when it was on the move and a wind turbine that was extended when it was parked. 

The truck by itself could generate 33 miles of free driving on an ideal sunny, breezy day. To charge up the rest of its 100 mile range, we’d buy “green” power from the utility and plug it in overnight.

Electric vehicles have come a long way since then! Instead of putting up with the inevitable problems I experienced that were inherent in driving a “continually undergoing testing” home-built vehicle, folks today can buy a well-engineered and tested EV boasting over 200 miles range, as well as an excellent  warranty and service record, right off the showroom floor. (Unfortunately due to arcane deficiencies in New Hampshire environmental laws, that showroom would likely be in Vermont or Maine!)

I know that today at least four families in Andover drive battery EVs as their main transportation, easily driving as far as Boston non-stop. There are more and more places along the highways and in parking areas to recharge on extended trips, but most folks routinely recharge for less than $5 in their own driveways.

The market share of electric vehicles will grow over the next few years, as major manufacturers like Ford and Chevy expand the models offered.  This means that the number of more-affordable used EVs is going to grow, making electrics an increasingly more attractive choice than gasoline-powered cars. We will surely be seeing more and more electric cars and trucks around Andover in the coming years. What might the future look like in Andover, if electric vehicles are widely adopted?

In the coming years, batteries retired from vehicle service will be repurposed for backup power units (sold as “powerwalls”) in Andover homes and businesses, perhaps even changing the way we buy and sell electricity to the grid during peak demand times. These near-future possibilities for Andover Community Power aggregation, time-of-use metering, and a resilient free-standing local microgrid have become topics of conversations around town.

Andover Community Power would allow the town to subscribe or “aggregate” consumers and producers in Andover on an opt-in basis, with the objective of saving on consumers’ electric bills and reducing the tax bill to pay for our public institutions’ electricity use. For example, Andover’s 2018 municipal electricity bill was $8,350, and AE/MS was $32,800  for the 2017-2018 school year. This much electricity could be generated annually by an 185 kW solar array whose dimensions would be roughly 100’ x 120’. 

For comparison, a solar array shading about half of the AE/MS parking lot (and providing an awning over parked cars) would be significantly larger than that and could supply several homes in addition. The maximum combined array size Andover could build is now limited by law to 5,000 kW, enough to supply about 500 efficient homes.

Time-of-use metering would make electricity cheapest when demand is lowest (say, between midnight and dawn) and full price when demand is highest (early evening supper and TV time, during the hottest season, when fans and air conditioning are also running). Putting timers on things like EVs and electric water heaters so they recharge at night would save money.  Letting parked EVs and battery “powerwalls” back-feed the grid in the high demand hours would essentially refund their owners for the value of that expensive electricity, which would then be repurchased late at night at the cheaper rate to recharge the car. 

Using idle EVs as storage devices in this way would reduce everyone’s electricity bill, because the utilities would not have to continue to overbuild the grid to meet the summertime one-day peak demand, and then have that equipment sit idle the rest of the year, as is today’s practice.

Resilient microgrids are a way that Andover could use its local generation and EV storage capacity to become a bright “island” when the rest of the grid goes down in a storm, but automatically connect under routine conditions.

These are just some of the ways that electric vehicles could help shape the future in Andover.