Weak local grid + Nissan LEAF: A bad mix?

leaf-plugeditors-blog-entry3Just got a notice from Nissan seeking my permission to share our impending LEAF purchase with our utility, Xcel Energy.

Here’s the short e-mail I received from Nissan a few days ago, one I’m sure a lot of folks who plan on getting a LEAF (or the few that already have one) have already gotten, or will soon get:

Christof, to ensure safe and uninterrupted electric service, Nissan plans to share your LEAF™ purchase decision and your street address with your local utility beginning next month. The utility will use this information strictly for service planning. Your information will not be shared, sold or used for any other purposes. If you are unwilling to share your address, simply edit your profile to decline this option before March 1, 2011.

The idea behind Nissan’s drive: To ensure that utilities have plenty of lead time on an EV plugging into the grid and, ideally, have the grid ready to run seamlessly with the added electric draw.

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I’m a strong believer in privacy, but this is one case where I’m going to go ahead and let Nissan inform Xcel that sometime in the not-too-distant future we’ll be plugging in an EV

Consistent power outages – before the EV
Of course, I’m not holding my breath – or, actually, I am, but not for the reasons you might expect.

You see, Xcel already has a poor record of providing consistent, reliable electricity delivery to our Aurora, Colo., neighborhood. In the five years we’ve lived here, we’ve had at least a dozen power outages, some lasting up to 12 hours or more.

One of the more memorable and recent local power outages came this past November when temperatures outside were in the teens and we lost power for more than 12 hours. The indoor temperature in our house dipped into the low 50s before Xcel got the power on again.

Our frequent power outages are VERY local, affecting typically somewhere from a few dozen to a few hundred houses and condos. This, I’m sure, is exactly why Xcel has failed to adequately fix the problem.

utility-meter-roundXcel finally did some major digging and, presumably, some major repairs in our neighborhood in early December.

But, guess what? Within a week of the major repairs, we lost electricity again!

Plugging into a weak grid
And we’re going to be plugging an EV into that local grid?!

I can only hope someone at Xcel will see the notice from Nissan that yours truly is going to be plugging in an EV soon into what I’m guessing, or, at least hoping, is one of Xcel’s worst Colorado local grid areas and a light will go on, and someone will say, “We’d better get out there and get that grid working right, there’s an EV coming!”

Studies have repeatedly shown that the U.S. electric grid can handle EVs – millions of them – if utilities and EV owners work together to manage the grid effectively.

But, in our little neighborhood at least, this effective grid management by said utility, Xcel Energy, seems as if it could be a very big if indeed – given Xcel’s track record in our neighborhood before EVs.

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That’s not exactly confidence inspiring. I certainly don’t want to be blamed if our local grid blows a fuse for the umpteenth time in the last five years when we plug in our LEAF, or whatever EV we ultimately end up buying.

That’s bad publicity for us, and for EVs in general. But the real guilty party won’t be us, or EVs, but Xcel Energy.

Hopefully, with Nissan contacting Xcel first, and me contacting Xcel at least once personally as we get closer to parking an EV in our garage and plugging it into our iffy local grid, things won’t play out the way I’ve described them above.

But, boy, will I be angry if they do.

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