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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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How Millions Of Electric Cars Could Power Your Home

The idea of using electric car batteries to support the grid sounds like something out of a Margaret Atwood novel. Imagine millions of EVs that charge from the grid when there is excess output and release back unused juice to the grid at peak hours. Also, many believe car batteries can be used as household battery packs, collecting and storing power from renewable installations. But how realistic is this belief?

The concept of vehicle-to-grid outlined above is not new. It’s been around for about a decade, but so far, no major breakthroughs have taken place. What’s more, despite a suitable level of enthusiasm, it looks like it will be many more years until such a breakthrough takes place.

Let’s start with the technical side, assuming for simplicity’s sake that Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s estimate that by 2040, more than half of all new cars sold will be electric, so there will be sufficient battery capacity to use in the grid.

So, that’s millions of electric cars all fitted with batteries. What do utilities and drivers do if they want to play together to improve the resilience of the grid (utilities) and charge some cheap juice (the drivers)? They will need to have a communications system in place so everyone knows when the best time to charge the cars is. This problem was detailed in a December article by the Lexington Institute’s Vice President Constance Douris. It’s not even the biggest one.

There is also an issue with the discharge part of the process: some industry insiders are concerned that when the grid sucks out juice from the batteries this could lead to increased stress on the cells, potentially damaging the battery.

As serious as these problems are in their own right, they are perhaps easier to solve than the non-technical ones. If you want to use millions of cars to act as battery packs, you will need to change the way people think and this cannot be achieved with a technological breakthrough. It takes time and a lot of it, plus motivation. A case in point is Nissan’s experiment with owners of its Leaf EV, as described by Bloomberg. Related: Why Is U.S. Oil So Cheap?

Nissan offered owners of Leaf a means to adapt their car battery to power their homes. The benefit was a US$40 electricity bill every month. What happened? Over the six years since the start of the project, just 7,000 Leaf owners agreed to take part. That’s 7,000 out of 81,500 Leaf owners in Japan.

As for the right time to charge your EV so you get the lowest rates, Nissan again did a trial together with utility Tepco, this time with employees, asking 45 of them to install electricity chargers at their homes to monitor power demand on weekends. Participants were rewarded with Amazon shopping points for buying electricity when supply was highest—but it wasn’t enough to make them take advantage of the cheap juice. Only 10 percent completed the trial.

Finally, there is the simple question of money. If you want to get EV drivers on your side and convince them that it’s better for them to charge at peak production and discharge during peak demand, you—that is, the utilities—will need to make it worth their while. For now, the financial benefits of V2G are uncertain. Once this uncertainty dissipates, the chances of the concept becoming a reality would greatly improve. Just make the system easy to use and the savings from charging at the right time worth the effort. Now this is a “just” that will take years to do.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • TheWay on April 10 2018 said:
    What do you mean by no breakthroughs? Are you talking about technological one? Or adoption? Overall, EVs are just entering the market on their first generation so expecting things to change overnight is silly. Multiple utilities are doing trials where they pay people money to participate and using that they are collecting data and deciding how to implement it.

    Now a few stuff to note:
    1) Bloomberg is significantly underestimating the amount of EVs that will be on the road by 2040. (Every year that passes, projections have improved significantly so as we get closer to that date, expect far larger numbers)

    2) Many new cars have internet, especially EVs (even if you can't directly use it), internet connected smart meters are also a thing. The solar industry already has this going so adding cars to the mix isn't a big deal.

    3) Nissan leaf has terrible range, so using it as an example is pretty bad. If your car had only 80 miles range and you spent 50 miles on your commute, if they start emptying out the battery you won't even have enough to go to the grocery store by the time they are done. But if your car has over 200 miles range, setting it that you always have 150 miles range minimum would make it much more lucrative.

    4) Even with the Leaf, a near 10% turnout isn't bad. If every car can contribute 20kw, you would only need 50 million cars to power the entire US grid. (Which is only 20% of cars). Of course this is if you are powering the entire grid. In reality you are simply bridging peak loads with base loads.

    5) Stress on the cells? A Nissan Leaf has an 80kw motor. Taking 20kw is less power than you driving 55mph down the highway. Not to mention, generally speaking what puts most stress on cells is deep discharges. If the utilities only take a few kwh here and there (which is the likely case), then the stress on the cells would be almost insignificant.

    6) EVs already have scheduling, and control of charging via cellphone. Automating it isn't that big of a deal.

    The biggest issue for V2G is simply that utilities take a LONG time to adapt new technologies. Even battery storage is taking much longer than it should have originally. Now that utilities are seeing what Tesla is doing in Australia with that big battery, there are now a bunch of test installations on the way from multiple utilities all over the world. I hear a new storage installation going on pretty much every single day. Once utilities finish their initial tests of battery storage, you will see much larger deployments as well as visiting V2G options as well.

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