What is "soft infrastructure"? Maybe it's using the batteries of parked electric cars as stores for renewable energy

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How can communities make quick moves towards lowering their carbon impact - rather than waiting on governments or political “regime” change to help them get there? We are constantly on the look-out for what we’re calling “soft infrastructures” - which are systems of energy, or materials, or information that are ready to reach down to the needs of localities, and bring new functionality or powers to them. If citizens become networks of actors - or Citizen Action Networks (CANs) - what structures could they actually build, instead of just dream or imagine?

Here’s an idea from Denmark which seems to fit that plan. The standard objection to a fully renewables-powered energy grid that it’s an intermittent affair: what happens when the waves abate and the wind stops blowing? What could provide the “baseload” - the constant current of electricity - that keeps our civilisation humming?

The bad answer is nuclear power (expensive, vulnerable, and the ultimate pollutant). The good answer is forms of electricity storage - batteries or other devices which can store energy when excesses are produced, and which can also (if connected smartly) keep electricity at a standard level.

There are often elaborate new infrastructures imagined for this - but these Danish engineers have come up with a simple solution, utilising s a piece of infrastructure that can be parked in front of your house everyday: an electric car. From the blog:

Results from a recently concluded research project have demonstrated that electric vehicles can support the electricity grid, even when parked. Known as project Parker, the research demonstrates that this is possible on commercial terms and across a range of car brands.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are more than just green transportation – it has now been shown that the cars can actively support the electricity grid and that they can do so on a large scale without compromising users’ comfort, battery performance and economy. EVs can thus help solve the challenges that arise when we increase the amount of renewable energy in the energy system.

…One of the services proven by the project to operate under market conditions is frequency regulation (FCR), which has been tested on the commercial fleet of 10 electric cars at Frederiksberg Utility. Frequency regulation is the service with the greatest earning potential – and at the same time the most difficult one to deliver – and Parker has tested and validated that frequency regulation as a service can be delivered on commercial terms.

For more than 12,000 hours, Frederiksberg Utility’s electric cars have been connected to the major grid and helped regulate the frequency so that it is constantly kept at 50 Hertz. In return, the commercial partners working with Frederiksberg Utility were compensated for making the cars’ batteries available whilst parked.

In addition to frequency regulation, electric cars can also provide a variety of other services. They can be recharged when the power is greenest, they can prevent overloads in the grid, and can potentially be used for new applications – for example electric cars being used as a large mobile battery to provide access to power in emergency situations.

As you can read in the case study above, this is a great example of spare capacity (the electric cars at rest) being turned into something useful, and even implying recompense (ie, being paid to be an energy manager) - the AirBnb/Uber-like platforms, except under a sustainable ethos.

So communities could not only create car-pool “commons” for themselves - but if they made that pool a set of electric vehicles, and ones that could support the grid with frequency regulation, it could also add income to the efficiencies of car-pooling.

Is this the kind of measure a Citizens Action Network could pursue?