The Unknown Unknowns of Vehicle-to-Grid Tech

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Since June 2020, a team from the Australian National University in Canberra has been investigating the possible integration of electric vehicles into the grid. Known as REVS (Realizing Electric Vehicle-to-Grid Services), the trial is implementing vehicle-to-grid technology in a fleet of 51 Nissan Leafs in Canberra. Nissan Leafs are being used because they are the only widely available electric vehicle in Australia capable of bi-directional charging with explicit warranty support. We should note the majority of EVs sold in Australia are Tesla Model 3’s, which are not yet equipped with hardware or software to enable V2X.

From the REVS trial:

“In an Australian first, the REVS project demonstrates how commercially available EVs and chargers can contribute to energy stability by transferring power back and forth into the grid. EVs will inject power back into the grid during rare events (to avoid possibility of blackouts) and the fleet owner will be paid when their vehicles are used for this service.

“Employing 51 Nissan LEAF EVs in ACT Government and ActewAGL fleets, the REVS project seeks to support the reliability and resilience of the electricity grid, unlocking economic benefits and making electric vehicles a more viable and appealing transport option for fleet operators. The REVS consortium covers the whole electricity and transport supply chains and includes ActewAGL, Evoenergy, Nissan, SG Fleet, JET Charge, the ACT Government and the Australian National University. Together the consortium will demonstrate V2G live in the electricity market and produce knowledge sharing materials that aim to accelerate the deployment of V2G nationally.

“The project has been endorsed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and has received funding as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program.

“The REVS trial is implementing one variation of V2G, namely a fleet of EVs that is selling frequency control ancillary services (FCAS) in return for wholesale market value. Many other variations are possible.”

Their report — Lessons Learnt — is a candid review of their progress and an analysis of what could be done better — now that the unknown unknowns have become known unknowns. The challenges included: making decisions with imperfect and incomplete information; underestimating complexity; lack of backup plans for dealing with obstacles; getting the right people to do the right thing at the right time; and issues around lack of knowledge of the various components of the process. 

Delays in one area could lead to delays in others incurring additional costs. “To provide one example, fleets require business continuity and therefore the sites need to receive their vehicles and chargers at the same time. A delay in charger installation meant that the delivery of vehicles also needed to be held back by Nissan. Incremental delays of one to two months were not sufficiently long to justify Nissan ordering fresh replacement vehicles, allowing the original vehicles to be released for other customers, partly due to supply bottlenecks caused by Covid-19. In addition, delays were notified at the eleventh hour, such that the vehicles had already been fitted out for the trial, so couldn’t be sold to another customer. As a result, as an interim measure Nissan were forced to hold the vehicles, which incurred additional holding, preservation and depreciation costs.

Some members of the consortium were small, flexible companies with the ability to operate in a high-risk environment, and others were large companies or government departments, which did not have the flexibility to adjust to changes in plans. This made timing difficult. They discovered, whilst dealing with multiple departments in multiple areas, that you cannot treat a government as one entity. What was considered one fleet of vehicles for one customer turned out to be many fleets for many customers.

The project would have benefitted from a unicorn — someone who had already worked with a similar trial — perhaps from overseas. It would have also benefited from working with a local charger manufacturer that would have been able to navigate the certification issues with AS/NZS 4777. “We identified the need for a progressive review and variation process to deal with the expected emergence of unknown-unknowns in a managed way.

“However, our key take-out was that EV charging itself is a new technology that occupies a space between electricity and transport for which there does not yet exist a common language. This means that consortium members are continually acting as a translator, possibly mistranslating, and/or not realizing the significance of different issues at the pertinent time. While all of this gives rise to valuable learning, it is not always timely.”

I have found similar issues when discussing training for apprentices in the motor trades industry.

I look forward to reports of further progress in this challenging and yet exciting area. One wonders whether in times to come these researchers will become unicorns for further trials in V2G in the South Pacific area? 

Project authors were: Kathryn Lucas-Healey, Laura Jones, Björn Sturmberg, and Md Mejbaul Haque.

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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