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Driving Change

Is bidirectional charging becoming more accessible?

Widespread consumer adoption of bidirectional charging will require more affordable options. Sono Motors' upcoming electric vehicle — priced at less than $30,000 — might gain traction.

A black Sion electric vehicle parked in Times Square

The Sion electric vehicle, the first offering from Sono Motors, on display in Times Square. Photo by Vartan Badalian/GreenBiz

By now, we have all heard of or interfaced with some form of bidirectional charging on an electric vehicle (EV). For those who are not familiar, here is a good overview of the various types of bidirectional charging, which include vehicle-to-grid (V2G), vehicle-to-home (V2H) and vehicle-to-load (V2L). 

Bidirectional charging allows the vehicle owner to use the stored power in their car for something other than driving — powering their home, providing power back to the grid or powering home appliances or even charging another EV. A number of vehicles on the market offer some form of bidirectional charging, including the Hyundai IONIQ, Kia EV6, Nissan Leaf and the Ford F150 Lightning. However, not all types of bidirectional charging are made equal, and some require additional hardware, specific charging stations and software from the automaker to activate. Additionally, automotive companies are adopting different versions of bidirectional charging. Honestly, for the general public, it can get quite confusing. 

For example, one of the most common vehicles on the road offering V2G is the Nissan Leaf, which recently was approved for V2G using Fermata Energy charging stations. However, a limitation of the Nissan Leaf is that it still uses a CHAdeMO connector, which the industry across North America and Europe has moved away from for combined charging system (CCS). Volkswagen also announced that its ID.4 lineup will have V2G by the end of 2022. However, there’s no major update on that yet, aside from a recent partnership with Ellia Group, a Belgium high-voltage transmission operator. Ford is also in the V2G pilot stage with Duke Energy, using the F150 Lightning.

In terms of wide-scale V2G applications, it appears fleet vehicles are where applications are really picking up. Noteworthy examples include a number of electric school bus pilots or Revel, the all-electric ride-sharing service conducting a pilot in New York City with Con Edison utility.

If we truly want an equitable transportation ecosystem with as many drivers as possible taking advantage of impactful technologies such as bidirectional charging, then the barriers to entry must come down.

V2H is picking up a lot of consumer attention as well. A notable example is the Ford F150 Lightning, which comes with bidirectional charging capabilities using a CCS connector, able to power your home in case your grid goes out. However, since the vehicle is providing direct current (DC) power for bidirectional charging, it requires the Ford Charge Station Pro and a Ford Home Integration System to convert the power from DC to alternating current (AC) in order for your home to use it. V2L is also becoming even more popular as vehicles such as the Hyundai IONIQ, Kia EV6, Rivian R1T and more offer such a feature. It’s super simple, which explains why more EVs have it. V2L allows the user to plug in any standard plug into the vehicle and power the device (lights, computers, a fridge, you name it — if it has a plug, your V2H vehicle can power it). However, these vehicles don’t come cheap. IONIQ 5 has a starting MSRP of $41,450, the EV6 $41,400, and the Rivian R1T at $68,575. The F150 Lightning has an MSRP range of $52,000 to $97,000.

What stands out to me the most across bidirectional charging is that there are two overarching variables that prove to complicate consumer adoption. Those variables are 1) the price of the vehicle is still too high, and 2) in the case of V2G and V2H, the vehicle still requires expensive additional tech, namely an inverter to convert the DC power from the vehicle to usable AC power. For example, if you purchase a Standard Range F150 Lightning, you would need to also purchase the necessary charger from Ford, along with the inverter, bringing the total cost of additional equipment to roughly $5,205. 

If we truly want an equitable transportation ecosystem with as many drivers as possible taking advantage of impactful technologies such as bidirectional charging, then the barriers to entry must come down. One automotive company moving in the direction of affordability and access to a well-priced EV with bidirectional charging is Sono Motors. 

Sono Motors is a new automaker based in Germany. While it hasn’t delivered a vehicle yet, it’s offering a pretty promising package. Based on looks, the Sion, Sono Motors’ first vehicle, is definitely not for everyone. Its design reminds me of the early EV days as it offers a more hatchback-coupe look. However, looking past the initial design, something obviously unique is going on with the vehicle as it is entirely covered in solar panels, which are integrated into the vehicle body. On average, the panels themselves supposedly deliver roughly 70-150 miles of range to the vehicle each week, adding to the already 54 kWH battery with around 190 miles. When combined with CCS fast-charging at 75 kW — which is not ideal but not the worst given the average DC fast-charging speed is 150 kW-plus — this is an exciting package. For a more detailed dive, you can check out an overview from TechCrunch’s Rebecca Bellan.

Front of black Sion EV, displaying charger port

The Sion EV includes a port for bidirectional charging. Photo by Vartan Badalian/GreenBiz

After spending some time with the Sion when it was on tour in New York City and speaking with Laurin Hahn, co-founder and CEO of Sono Motors, two main attributes of this vehicle stand out and have the potential to drive big impact long-term. What are they? Price and accessibility of bidirectional charging. 

Sono Motors already has 20,000 private preorders ahead of its launch in Europe next year, along with 22,000 preorders from fleet operators. The company hopes to expand to the U.S., which explains why it’s doing a U.S. tour. The Sion’s price tag is less than $30,000, and it offers pretty impressive bidirectional charging features, namely V2G, V2H and V2L. Hahn shared the full breakdown with me. "You see those food trucks over there," Hahn said, pointing to one of hundreds of food trucks in New York City using a diesel generator to power its operation. "We will basically make that process [using a generator] obsolete." The Sion has a 3.6 kW household plug along with a 11 kW AC — not DC — bidirectional charging that comes standard on all Sions. "We will bring out the Sion chargers, which are V2G- and V2H-ready, and from there, you just plug in at night, and it levels the car, whatever you need at home, and it becomes your home storage," Hahn said. "This is a massive selling point if people understand that."

The Sion charger is something the company recently announced, claiming it will be 70 percent cheaper than other bidirectional DC chargers. Of course, one notable disadvantage to using AC instead of DC is that the driver still needs a specific AC charger. However, when looking specifically at price and fewer barriers to entry, AC seems to win over DC. 

Overall, I tend to agree with Hahn. The Sion seems to be a good package, at a price point of under $30,000, before incentives, offering well over 200 miles of range and AC bidirectional charging. 

In the end, I see this vehicle picking up some traction, namely for the reasons discussed. While the design of the vehicle shown on tour was final, it was still a prototype. This vehicle could appeal to many more people if Sono Motors is able to refine some of the exterior so that the panels themselves aren’t fully visible.

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