What Is This Vehicle-To-Grid Of Which You Speak?
It looks like things are really beginning to cook in the vehicle-to grid market. Last fall Fermata launched a V2G pilot project with a fleet of Nissan LEAFS in the US, and all of a sudden earlier this month the company announced a $2.5 million deal with TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), a major player in Japan’s electricity grid.
For those of you new to the topic, vehicle-to-grid refers to the idea that electric vehicles are really nothing more than tricked out mobile energy storage devices. Once you charge them up, you can use that electricity anywhere you go.
Grid stakeholders are also looking at electric vehicles as a platform for grid services, which basically means they will pay you to store energy in your vehicle. That means you can charge up your electric vehicle even if you don’t plan on going anywhere, and cash in whenever your grid operator needs some extra kilowatts.
So, why hasn’t anybody thought of this before? The answer is they have. Commercial V2G systems are starting to emerge in the EU, where a recent study indicates a big payoff for V2G technology.
The US has also begun to dabble in V2G on a small scale, including military fleets.
Offsetting the cost of electric vehicles
Getting V2G systems up and running on a mass scale is not as simple as plugging your electric vehicle into a socket.
Last week, CleanTechnica sat down on the phone with Fermata CEO and founder David Slutzky for some insights into the challenges and opportunities of V2G integration (following comments edited for clarity and flow):
CleanTechnica: How do you see the vehicle-to-grid market shaping up?
Slutzky: I started Fermata about 8 years ago with two intentions in mind. One is to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles. The other is to accelerate transition to renewables.
In terms of accelerating EV adoption, we recognize that range anxiety is waning in importance. There are bigger batteries, more charging stations, and more driver awareness.
The real obstacle is that electric vehicles are expensive, and yet they are parked 97% of the time.
If they were earning money while parked, that would offset some expense.
Overcoming the V2G obstacles
CleanTechnica: How did you hook up with Nissan?
Slutzky: To do vehicle-to-grid you need three things: a bidirectional vehicle, a bidirectional charger, and software that enables you to monetize the system.
The Nissan Leaf is the only bidirectional vehicle on the market right now. Tesla gets it but they are focused on Powerwall. Nissan understood that their vehicles had potential value to provide to other markets.
CleanTechnica: How did the recent deal with TEPCO come about?
Slutzky: They want to migrate this technology [from the US] to Asia. They know different vehicle-to-grid players and they decided to go with us. We were happy to engage. Right now we’re discussing the time frame and approach.
CleanTechnica: Is the technology available?
Slutzky: Yes and no. You need bidirectional chargers, and as of this moment there are no bidirectional chargers approved for vehicle-to-grid. We looked all over the world to find a suitable bidirectional charger, but there really weren’t any. However, there was a company in Blacksburg that had developed what we believed was state-of-the-art equipment with remarkable innovations, and so we entered into an agreement and acquired them.
So, we will be bringing the first UL-approved charger to the market this spring. It’s 25 kw bidirectional DC fast charger. It’s off-board, so you don’t have to modify the vehicle.
CleanTechnica: Do you plan to work with other companies?
Slutzky: Fermata is ultimately both vehicle and charger agnostic. We fully intend to work with every bidirectional maker. Right now we’re working closely with one major company and in we are in discussions with others. When another bidirectional charger hits the market, we want them to work with our software.
Making bank on your electric vehicle
CleanTechnica: Can you walk us through the monetization aspect?
Slutzky: Our system is designed to enable inter-operability between car, charger, and grid monetization. The software enables the aggregation of vehicles and chargers.
The real value is our expertise in grid-facing opportunities. We understand the power grid and the utility industry. We understand the monetization pathways that make it possible for a connected vehicle to make a fair amount of money, and that’s what we focus most of our efforts on.
Electric vehicles are a reservoir of uses. There are multiple ways to earn money, and there will be more opportunities as we interact more with the utility industry.
For example, there is an active market for frequency regulation in PJM and we are a curtailment services provider [PJM is the electricity market serving the US northeast]. We can aggregate electric vehicles and bid them in to the frequency market. It’s all one pie; our focus is on how big is the pie, and how to slice it up.
Onward and upward into the sparkling green future
Got all that? Slutzky also mentioned that the system can be used in microgrids and other off-grid applications, though the main focus now is grid connectivity.
As for the prospects for rapid vehicle-to-grid commercialization, count the US Department of Energy among the fans. Just last April, the agency issued a new V2G report from the Electricity Advisory Council noting, among other things, that the “rising cost of grid disruptions underscores the need to identify cost-effective strategies and investments that can increase the resilience of the U.S. power system,” and that the “emerging market of electric vehicles (EVs) presents a new opportunity to improve the grid.”
In a 2017 report, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory surveyed the field and cited several ways in which V2G can provide important grid services including “balancing renewable peaks and valleys, providing excess capacity and bulk storage, providing spinning reserves, and balancing frequencies.”
As for next steps, the lab cited a number of factors leading to the rapid deployment of V2G systems, including an “understanding of the local markets, a sufficient number of vehicles to bid into energy markets, equipment to provide power back to the grid, and an aggregator to manage the project.”
Meanwhile, the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is even more enthusiastic about V2G:
The interconnection of vehicles and the grid can enable a paradigm shift with synergistic benefits for the transportation and electricity sectors. Widespread use of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) enables transportation with lower emissions, reduction of the link between mobility and oil, and integration of intermittent renewables.
As Berkeley Lab explained a while back, if even just a 25% portion of the US vehicle fleet consisted of plug-in EVs, the total storage capacity would be almost 1,000 gigawatt-hours — just about equal to the total electricity generating capacity of the US, give or take a few megawatts.
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Image (screenshot): Fermata Energy via YouTube.