Electric vehicles (EVs) have come a long way over the past decade, to the point where they’re now commonly accepted as a viable alternative to traditional combustion vehicles. This change in viability is something that would have been unheard of a decade ago, but now as we start to race through the “roaring twenties,” we must change how we live our daily lives to avoid climate disaster. And this may mean plugging our future electric vehicles to power the grid and getting paid for it.
Potential of Vehicle to Grid technology
Using Vehicle to Grid technology (V2G) would make such an innovation possible. V2G is regarded as the next evolution of “smart charging” EV technology. But instead of merely adjusting the rate of battery charging for EVs, V2G actively contributes to the grid infrastructure by offering EV batteries as additional storage capacity. So, during quieter times with low demand, it stores the energy needed to satisfy the peak demand later. This easing of peaks and troughs of demand lends this technology well to solve wind and solar’s fluctuating energy supply.
To get an idea of the type of incentivisation needed for EV drivers to plug their vehicles into the grid at the correct times, you can look no further than the home energy storage market, where owners also have the choice to sell back energy to the grid. Getting this right for EVs might be a driver of increased adoption among the public. We expect EV mass adoption to accelerate once these vehicles reach cost parity with internal combustion vehicles (ICVs). According to a poll of 3,000 UK drivers by the RAC, the most significant barrier to adoption is the higher price ranges versus ICVs of equivalent size, according to 78% of drivers. However, if incentivisation works, EV manufacturers could offer a better value proposition to customers, as who wouldn’t want a vehicle that could pay back some of its initial upfront costs through renting out its storage capacity to the grid?
Future Growth in EVs
Building dedicated battery hubs is not cost-effective for network providers; if the uptake in EVs by 2030 is substantial, proper integration of this technology could provide a meaningful alternative to building expensive battery infrastructure. For example, UKPN [UK Power Network] suggests, by 2030, between 1.9 and 4.1 million EVs will be connected to their networks, while BloombergNEF estimates by 2040, EVs could account for “as much as 16 percent of the UK’s overall energy demand in 2040.” . And to add to these sentiments in 2020, Michael Jost, Volkswagen Chief strategist, claimed bullishly that by 2030 they would have one terawatt-hour of storage for their disposal in their electric car fleet.
Suppose the network of EV-provided energy capacity does grow anywhere close to these amounts. In that case, it could potentially support the grid in the event of an emergency caused by extreme weather conditions, which seem to be happening more often. Furthermore, EVs could supply electricity back to the grid while the electricity is being restored, typically taking only 24 hours. EVs can also travel to critical areas where electricity needs to be restored.
Potential Issues with V2G Technology
Nobel laureate and key Lithium Battery developer Akira Yoshino recently spoke of the potential V2G grid technology could have in Japan. However, Japan’s current laws regarding new energy storage instillations are subject to ill-fitting legislation that treats anyone supplying more than 10MW to the grid as an “energy generator”. These additional roadblocks, which have slowed adoption in the country, can be bypassed if lower voltage V2G EVs are used instead. While this lack of regulatory framework is not just an issue with Japan, there are parts of the world where progress is being made. For example, the new European ISO 15118-20 standard released in 2021 provides some much-needed clarity to European car manufacturers by enabling bidirectional power transfer for multiple cars, among other features.
There are questions about how the constant use of the battery will affect its degradation, as this will affect the battery life and vehicle warranty. The condition where an idle battery slowly degrades in a parked car, “calendar degradation”, is a continuous process that is exacerbated when “when a battery is at a higher state of charge.” However, a recently collaborated study showed ‘smart’ V2G systems are capable of extending life. Furthermore, Clara Serrano, a senior engineer and plant manager at Aston University, also plays down the adverse effects on the battery but admits more research is needed.
Overview of Recent V2G Projects
There have been various projects around the world putting this technology into practical uses:
- The $16 million trial in Virginia, US, where 50 battery-powered buses were fitted with bidirectional charging capabilities.
- The “Powerloop” project, featuring 130 drivers using EVs with V2G technology, is being spearheaded by a consortium featuring Octopus Electric, UKPN, Innovate UK, and others to collect actual V2G usage data. It’s hard to predict when customers will plug into the grid, so customer behaviour needs to be better understood. In 2021 Powerloop announced a project expansion in order to participate in the National Grid’s Balancing Mechanism (BM).
While EVs have come a long way, advances in the sector are constantly accelerating, with the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model 3 leading V2G technology adoption. There are still regulatory and technology barriers; however, the potential to aid the grid in balancing green energy supply by rewarding EV owners makes finding solutions to these challenges worth it.