Published on July 9th, 2014 | by Guest Contributor


Putting Grid Management In EV Drivers’ Hands

July 9th, 2014 by  

By Beaudry Kock

The smart grid will only live up to its promise if utilities and grid operators spur innovation and engagement by relinquishing their tight control of grid data and consumer energy profiles; and if consumers who can store and generate energy are given true ownership credit and a piece of the revenue pie, driving interest and participation. Experience with deploying electric vehicles on the grid suggests to us that there’s a bright future for the EV and other smart grid appliances, but only if we tackle these core issues of data access and energy control.

The electric vehicle is one of those dramatic shifts in consumer technology that could help put the “smart” back into “smart grid.” Not only is this an appliance with substantial energy storage and powerful onboard computing, but it delivers huge and recurring value for the consumer. In other words, it’s not likely to end up on the shelf and ignored. As penetration continues to grow, an EV may end up being central to everyone’s personal corner of the smart grid. Already, we can see that even one EV in every third or fourth driveway can enable huge potential for consumer and grid energy services, in areas like ancillary services, energy, capacity, blackstart, reductions in demand charges, and increased solar penetrations. With traditional, more expensive providers edged out, we might then see real revenue flowing back down the wires from grid operator to utility to consumer as vehicle batteries are leveraged to deliver a safe, reliable, and clean energy system.

grid management ev drivers

Image Credit: PlugShare

The coming vehicle-to-grid revolution has been foretold for some time. However, as is the case with connected thermostats, appliances, and home solar, the smart grid has yet to live up to its promise. Smart meters and other AMI technologies have rolled out successfully — this much is true. But the vision of every consumer being intimately connected to their energy use profile and participating actively for energy savings and operational efficiencies in a smart and distributed grid has yet to become a reality; the smart grid and its service offerings have failed to excite consumers. “Smart grid” remains utility jargon rather than consumer reality.

We believe that to enable a change in how consumers engage with these new technologies, we need truly open grid and appliance data, and real consumer ownership of energy storage and generation.

Many utilities and grid operators are holding tightly onto data, including individual consumption patterns as well as grid-scale metrics, which are the keys to innovation in this sector. These data streams yield a rich trove of information on possible efficiencies and the potential for new energy services, yet are mostly locked down or distributed via non-standard and outdated technologies that prohibit dynamic use of the information.

Adding further to the issue is the lack of agreement among OEMs (the manufacturers of the Nissan LEAF, the Tesla and other EVs on the market) as to whether or not drivers should really be able to fully access the data streams coming out of the vehicles themselves. While third parties like Automatic and FleetCarma are stepping into the breach, these solutions still remain most relevant to the enthusiast. Just as grid metrics can guide how drivers make use of their EVs for energy services, vehicle metrics help the grid understand what each vehicle can offer. Having an open, bidirectional flow of information benefits everyone.

Data and information aside, many established energy players are also fighting hard against distributed storage and generation, appropriately perceiving the technologies as a threat to traditional business models but simultaneously unwilling to see the opportunities they open up. The consumer is consequently never allowed the means to profit: their ownership of a key grid resource goes unrecognized and largely unrewarded. You might think you’re going off-grid with rooftop solar, but in most cases, if domestic electricity drops, your solar panel will stop feeding energy into the home circuit. Similarly, you might think you can just plug your EV into your home and use it for emergency power; and perhaps even earn a few bucks from letting the utility manage your charge for a more stable, cheaper grid. But without expensive panel upgrades, complicated submetering additions, and special utility programs, these goals are simply unattainable. The value in your smart grid appliances can only be unlocked at the behest of the utility, whereas the autonomy enabled by these technologies implies the opposite.

It comes down to this: for EV owners, data access and ownership obstacles sit squarely between them and the prospect of cost savings and revenue generation. Utilities and grid operators lock down operational data which could be used to guide EV deployment in grid services, returning real dollars to the vehicle owner. Auto manufacturers lock down vehicle charge data and controls that could be used to integrate these vehicles in the smart grid — which would not only send revenue the way of the owner, but also give them more control over vehicle fueling sources and help in conserving battery life.

There’s no good reason why this should be so. The security risk to opening up grid metrics like frequency and renewable generation share is minimal to nonexistent. The abilities to monitor state of charge and adjust charging schedules in vehicles hardly constitute a gross risk to the driver. What’s more, no one is asking for the moon: opening up even small portions of these data streams would allow for simple and quick interventions today. More complex solutions can come later, but let’s at least prove out the potential.

How do we know this? Here at PlugShare we’ve got first hand experience in deploying electric vehicles to the grid. We know there is huge appetite among EV owners to make their vehicles available for smart grid services — even without the promise of revenue in return. When PlugShare ran a demand response pilot with Silicon Valley EVs during the summer of 2013, 30% of vehicles were able to shed load during peak events — unheard of in the demand response sector. We’ve also connected what grid signals we can access, such as peak event and grid congestion signals, to our PlugShare app user community and to the increasing numbers of vehicles which are technologically enabled to receive our control signals. With this minimalist approach, we can more or less instantly reduce or increase load on hundreds of vehicles in the Bay Area alone. In fact, we strongly believe in beginning this process with fast, lightweight, and experimental interventions using whatever technology is available; there is no need to completely unlock the grid’s data streams to start doing good.

But we could do so much more.

With open data policies on the smart grid, we could tailor efficiency and demand response programs in real time, balancing the unique needs of each energy consumer against what a stable, clean and safe grid demands. By ensuring true ownership of energy for those who have the means to store and generate it, the model of consumer/smart grid engagement changes from fee-for-access to fee-for-service. Just putting advanced smart grid technologies out there is not enough: we need institutional reform towards an open, grassroots grid that will enable hugely capable resources like EVs and smart thermostats to reach their potential.

Beaudry KockBeaudry is Vice President of Smart Grid and Government Relations at PlugShare. He leads PlugShare’s vehicle intelligence work, which is connecting electric vehicles everywhere to the smart grid, and also works to advocate for EV adoption nationwide. Beaudry has a PhD in urban and regional planning and broad expertise around infrastructure systems including transportation, energy and water, but is particularly focused on advancing clean and sustainable transportation in and around urban centers: helping people get where they need to go, comfortably, efficiently and sustainably. He has worked in the past with the University of Oxford, ERM and MIT on sustainability strategy, policy and planning. 

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  • Steve Grinwis

    As an EV driver, I don’t particularly feel like dumping power back into the grid unless I’m compensated for it somewhat.

    I do however, take advantage of TOU pricing to all my charging in off-peak times.

    • jeffhre

      Customers who are part of demand management plans now, receive lower rates because of it. But they don’t expect their appliances and systems to have shorter lives because of it.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Letting the grid manage your battery charging time, either via smart chargers or TOU pricing, has no impact on battery life.

        Battery life comes into play only if EVs start feeding power back to the grid (V2G). If we ever start doing that (which I think we won’t) EV owners will have to be compensated no only for the energy they store/feed back but also for battery ‘wear and tear’. And battery warranties would need to be adjusted.

        Almost certainly (my crystal ball numbers) utilities are going to find it cheaper to own storage than to rent it from EVs.

        • jeffhre

          Yes, in this instance I was referring to increasing the number of battery cycles from putting energy back onto the grid for a preapproved level of compensation. Would make sense only if battery kWh’s become far cheaper, which they will, or people with big batteries are driving only short ranges – retirees?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, the average daily drive is around 36 miles. With 200 mile range EVs a lot of people could easily have “100 miles” that they could rent to the grid. Charge up at work with cheap solar and feed back during the evening peak. Charge up at night and feed back into the morning pre-solar peak.
            But why?

            EV batteries will likely be more expensive than grid batteries. EV batteries need to be high capaicity (light weight) and able to charge/discharge quickly. Utilities can use larger, heavier and slower batteries. Stuff like vanadium redox flow batteries.

            Plus utilities will be able to buy in very large volumes, millions of dollars worth at a time vs. the individual buying a small pack at retail.

          • jeffhre

            ” Charge up at night and feed back into the morning pre-solar peak.
            But why?
            The knowledge that you are contributing green power to your community as a good citizen, steward of the planets well being and getting paid for your investment in clean technology.
            For the utility it’s a topline expense that can be traded for the capex of storage and written off as an expense today rather than holding a physical storage facility that is carried on the books long term. It’s pay as you go green power, like having spinning reserves ready, except at minimal expense until needed. Completely off the books, as needed, just like demand management which they already know, and no scaling of battery facilities, which they have never preferred.

          • Bob_Wallace

            We won’t save the planet by depending on enough people to be good citizens. Were that the case car dealers would be selling nothing but EVs and PHEVs now. Essentially no one needs a full on ICEV.

            I don’t know what the cost of storing power in an EV battery would be, but storing in lead acid batteries for offgrid stuff is about 20 cents per kWh. Utilities will likely be able to store for 5 cents or less. And that includes return of capital.

  • RamboSTiTCH

    I could see consumers reluctant to connect their appliances to the internet for fear of being tracked by big brother or a hacker turning off the freezer. There would definitely need to be some monetary compensation for an EV owner to sacrifice battery longevity for the sake of efficient utility electric production. Might need an alliance between a utility and an EV manufacturer for effective smart grids to appear. Perhaps between Telsa and Solar City (not quite a utility… yet)?

  • Jouni Valkonen

    Vehicle-to-Grid is a flawed idea, because it is impossible to use modern long range electric cars for that purpose. If you try to feed electricity from Tesla battery back to the grid, this will void the eight year warranty of Tesla battery. Tesla is already stretching with their battery warranty, therefore they have no plans for allowing Vehicle-to-grid. E.g. 60 kWh battery warranty has mileage limit and supercharging is disabled as supercharging degrades battery 2–3 times faster than standard charging.

    However, there is other method for balancing renewables. As Tesla has longer range than what is needed for everyday driving, standard charge level can be set to 50 %. But when there are good wind conditions, the car is charged to 90 % overnight.

    This kind of smart charging does not degrade battery unnecessarily but on the opposite may help to protect battery, because lithium-ion batteries have best lifetime, if stored around 40 % charge level.

    Also most importantly, this kind of smart charging does not require smart grid, but Tesla drivers can do this with genuinely altruistic motif. Tesla car can fetch real time wind power production data from Internet and then adjust charge level according to the wind power conditions.

    With solar panels it goes without saying that smart charging is even simpler. Just use directly off-grid solar panels for charging Tesla car and there is no further smart grid required!

    • eveee

      Contrast that with Nissan, V2G or V2H, no problem. V2G or V2H makes sense as soon as solar creates a daytime surplus and workplace charging is used. Then coming home with a mostly charge battery pack, discharging a few hours in the evening, and then charging again late at night makes sense. If the battery has enough capacity, it can be operated from 30% to 70% Depth of Discharge. In that mode, battery life soars. FYI, Tesla already limits charging and probably discharging, too. They make everyday charging to 80% only. All EVs should give the user the option to limit charge and discharge this way. Then if you use V2G or V2H at night, it has little effect on battery life. Also, the Leaf pack is 24kwhr. Most homes do not use that much in two days. Since its only evening, less. So chances are, you do not discharge the pack much in an evening. Maybe about 6kwhr. It really pays to manage this.

      • jeffhre

        This works well for people with big batteries who often do not drive much. It will take advances in battery durability for more widespread acceptance, though.

    • jeffhre

      “and supercharging is disabled”

      Please explain, supecharging is offered on 60kWh cars?

      • Jouni Valkonen

        you can enable supercharging for 60 kWh version if you pay enough for Tesla that it covers possible warranty expenses. But it comes as disabled by default.

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