EVs Can Be a Help to the US Power Grid

Charging station icons created by Aldo Cervantes - Flaticon

One of the major issues for EV owners this past summer has been charging. It wasn’t the lack of access to charging stations, rather states such as California and Colorado were experiencing record breaking heat and issuing alerts asking people to reduce their power consumption during the peak times to avoid rolling blackouts. For EV owners who would normally plug-in when they get home, this meant unplugging or not starting to charge until the power demand dropped later in the evening. Bidirectional or vehicle-to-grid charging which while has been around for a few years has been slow to take off in the US. This could be a major solution to this issue and help out the US Power Grid too.

Cars are no longer just modes of transportation; they are increasingly integrated into the larger energy infrastructure. If your EV is sitting in your garage fully charged (cars are typically parked 95 percent of the time) and you lose power, that big battery offers an opportunity to keep the lights on. And when there’s a sudden spike in demand for the grid—because everyone wants to turn on their AC during a heat wave or their heat during a deep freeze—utilities could pay homeowners for their excess battery power.

When someone plugs in a car to charge it, alternating current (AC) power is converted into direct current voltage, which is stored inside the car’s battery. If the owner has a bidirectional charger, that DC power can be converted back to AC and added to the grid.

This is the market same concept as with solar and battery storage, what extra energy produced is either stored until needed (evenings) or sold back to the local utility provider who credits the producers electric bill. The downside though was the huge upfront cost of both solar panel and battery storage system or being locked into a solar lease negating any potential savings. EV owners with bidirectional or vehicle-to-grid charging don’t need to purchase or lease anything. They could also use their EV to power their home too during peak energy usage times or in the event of a blackout

This month, during a record heat wave, California officials credited residents’ response to a daily text alert warning them to stop unnecessary energy usage—for example, unplugging their EVs—with avoiding rolling blackouts. But those EVs could also be used to power their owners’ homes, decreasing the overall demand on the grid. “We feel like EVs can provide the notion of helping make power outages invisible for customers,” says Aaron August, VP of business development and customer engagement at Pacific Gas and Electric, one of California’s major utilities. That is, if the power goes out, your home should be able to switch to battery power without you even noticing. “These are mobile power plants. And with the right configuration, you can weather an outage for hours at a time.”

Ford demonstrated in their commercial from 2021 for the 2022 F150 Lighting. Besides showing off the extra cargo space in the frunk, the EV is used to provide power for  a camp site; or job site; or even providing backup power to a residence via the FORDPASS app and the home Charge Station.

There are a couple downside to bidirectional charging. First, not all current EV owners have bidirectional chargers, again this has had slower adoption in the US than other parts of the world.. I could possibly see some utility companies (especially in California, Texas or any other place where the power grid is stretched thin) to offer rebates, discounts or other incentives for EV owners to upgrade their chargers. The cost to upgrade should not be as much as was the initial install given the bulk of the cost is from having a dedicated 240 V circuit and outlet installed. Second is bidirectional charging is going to mean the EV battery is going to degrade quicker. As with any rechargeable battery there is a finite number of times the battery can be recharged. As mentioned earlier 95% of the time an EV is parked and the battery is not going to be depleted.  However, while the EV is parked it would be feeding power back to the grid or powering a home which is going to degrade the battery.

The good news is EV battery technology is improving at a very rapid pace. In the US all EV’s sold come with an 8-year battery replacement warranty and most EV batteries have a lifespan of 10-20 years. The average combined age of ICE cars/light trucks in the US is around 12.2 years while the average age of EVs are around 3.8 years. Regardless, the current EV batteries are going to outlast the first ownership of the EV.

via Ars Techinca