Ofgem is the independent energy regulator for the UK. Working with government, industry, and consumer groups, it strives to deliver a net-zero energy economy at the lowest cost to consumers while promoting competition and innovation. Recently, it has unveiled a proposed new policy that would expand the availability of vehicle-to-grid technology in the UK so that EV drivers can sell the energy stored in their car batteries back to power grid. It’s all part of a plan to make the switch away from fossil fuel cars more affordable for consumers.
In its purest form, V2G technology allows local utilities to draw power from the batteries of electric cars when demand peaks. That, in turn, allows them to avoid powering up so-called “peaker plants,” which are typically gas-fired thermal generating stations that sit idle until needed. Bringing them online is quite expensive. The dirty little secret of peaker plants is that they tend to emit large amounts of carbon dioxide during the start-up phase and are exempt from normal emissions rules during that time.
According to The Guardian, if enough drivers take advantage of the opportunity to make money from their car batteries by using vehicle-to-grid technology, the UK could avoid investing in new power plants with the equivalent generation capacity of up to 10 large nuclear power stations. That could help keep energy bills lower for all households in Great Britain, even those that do not have an electric vehicle parked in the driveway. An additional benefit is that tapping into a large number of vehicle batteries will allow utility companies to avoid some of the cost of installing grid scale battery storage facilities.
The number of electric vehicles in the UK is expected to climb to as many as 14 million by 2030, requiring billions in investment to upgrade the electricity grid. But Ofgem believes its vehicle to grid program — which will reduce the cost of enabling charging stations to use V2G technology — could unlock big savings for the energy system and lower utility bills. There were about 535,000 electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, on UK roads at the end of May 2021.
The plan includes more “time of use” rates that encourage EV drivers to charge their vehicles during off peak hours when demand for electricity is low. They will be compensated at a higher rate when the electricity stored in their batteries flows back into the grid later when demand increases. V2G programs are under the control of the vehicle owners, so they do not have to worry about waking in the morning to find there is not enough charge in their batteries to get to work.
Neil Kenward, a director at Ofgem, tells The Guardian it will take a “three-prong approach” by increasing the use of electric vehicles, implementing “smart” car charging protocols, and promoting vehicle-to-grid technology, “which together can help drive down costs for all GB bill payers. Electric vehicles will revolutionize the way we use energy and provide consumers with new opportunities, through smart products, to engage in the energy market to keep their costs as low as possible.”
Graeme Cooper, the National Grid head of future markets, says Ofgem’s smart charging plan was “an important step” towards limiting the impact of the shift to electric vehicles on household bills. “There will be an uptick in demand for energy, so we need to ensure that we are future-proofing, putting the right wires in the right place for future demand. Smart charging essentially allows your car to ‘talk’ to the grid, using data to assess when is the best time for your car to charge. It’s a cheaper, more energy efficient and sustainable way of charging electric vehicles.”
While the plan makes sense, it does not address the fact that few electric cars today are equipped for V2G technology. Volkswagen is taking the lead in the industry, promising that all of its electric cars will be V2G capable by the start of next year. Nissan has also developed V2G technology for some of its electric cars.
“Volkswagen is setting things in motion,” says Stefan Bratzel, professor at the Center of Automotive Management at the Bergisch Gladbach University of Applied Sciences. “The amount of stored energy traveling around on four wheels is much greater than any utility company will ever build and put on the grid,” adds Gerbrand Ceder, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California.
EV owners have concerns about whether sending power back to the grid will have a negative impact on battery life. Those promoting V2G will need to address those concerns, but the prospect of actually generating some income may be all the convincing some EV owners will need to sign up.
The much anticipated Ford F-150 Lightning will offer its owners the ability to power their homes and small businesses with the battery in their truck, a feature known as vehicle to home or V2H technology. By the end of this decade, our children may be amazed to learn that at one time, V2G and V2H technology was not a thing, just as many people were shocked to learn that our televisions once needed to “warm up” before we could see a picture on the screen.
The march of technology never stops and what was considered trés avant yesterday is ordinary today. For instance, the smartphone is not yet a decade old, yet few can remember when there was a time we didn’t all carry one with us everywhere. Vehicle-to-grid technology is coming and sooner than most of us think. The tipping point will be when Tesla jumps on the V2G bandwagon. Are you listening, Elon?