EV as grid asset: Unlocking a $3 billion energy market

BMW i3 electric vehicle charging
ShutterstockDarren Brode
BMW is among the automakers seeking creative solutions to charging infrastructure linked to the grid.

New plug-in electric vehicles sold between 2015 and 2020 will see more than 75 gigawatt hours of energy storage capacity to support the grid in North America.

That's according to a Navigant Research analysis of how emerging  power load management programs customized to incorporate plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) will use car battery packs. 

This back-up power could help defer load during demand response events, consume excess power when over-generation occurs and balance the intermittency of renewables to ensure grid integrity.

Already more than a dozen pilot programs active today are testing the communications links between grid operators and the PEVs. Their outcomes will influence the pace at which large scale programs are deployed.

In many cases, the PEVs will be managed alongside other distributed energy resources, such as stationary storage, natural gas gensets and solar power.

One such program in the San Francisco Bay Area known as ChargeForward, is being conducted by utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), which is managing the charging of 100 BMW i3 EVs.

Hear more from BMW and PG&E at VERGE 2015, Oct. 26-29 in San Jose, California.

According to David Almeida, principal program manager, electrification and alternative fuels at PG&E, the utility sends out demand response (OpenADR) signals one day in advance to to BMW servers.

BMW then sends the signals through its ConnectedDrive telematics program to the participants’ mobile devices, as well as the vehicles.

The EV owners can opt out of delaying the vehicle charge, although the default is set to participate. The program provided an upfront incentive of $1,000 for participating, and up to $540 more depending on how often the vehicles respond.

Making a market

By 2020, Navigant Research expects that the market for grid services provided by electric vehicles will surpass more than $3 billion annually in North America, primarily focusing on demand response programs.

Almeida told me that one of ChargeForward’s goals is understand how the existing infrastructure can support PEV participation. In the future, PEVs could be used to support the integration of renewable power generation in PG&E’s service territory, according to Almeida.

The utility is now testing programs with residential customers that sends signal to customers to increase energy consumption on demand in order to balance excess generation. Another future application for PEVs will be in frequency or voltage regulation services that help to keep the grid in phase or balanced.

However, using telematics systems over cellular networks to relay grid events, such as in the ChargeForward pilot, is thought have too much latency and won’t respond quickly enough for regulation services. That could change as communications paths become optimized.

Many grid support programs that will come online will combine the mobile batteries in PEVs with stationary storage to provide higher capacity resources.

ChargeForward combines the BMW’s batteries with up to 100 Kw of stationary storage using "second life" batteries taken from Mini-E’s that previously had roamed California roads, said Simon Ellgas, senior advanced technology engineer at BMW.

The stationary storage systems can send or receive power on demand, he said. Ellgas added that there is a strong use case for taking the batteries of out of the cars at the end of their leases and re-purposing them as stationary storage. The leased vehicles could be upgraded for resale with new packs, which likely would be more energy dense and better performing than the batteries they replace, according to Ellgas.

Ellgas said that "part of the goal is to demonstrate what can be done with production vehicles, and this has a strong implication because if it is a success, then we can roll it out at a much larger scale."

At BMW’s headquarters in Munich, the company is gaining additional understanding of the battery packs’ capabilities by being engaged in a variety of battery stationary storage research projects all around the world, ranging from residential behind the meter solution to utility-scale (several MW) projects.

Beyond battery second life applications, BMW is interested in selling new packs as stationary storage because the additional market could enable the company to achieve the efficiencies of volume production more quickly, which would lower the per-unit cost.

Using EV batteries to support the grid enables utilities to optimize the regional grid with very low upfront costs when compared to purchasing new generation assets. Also, as EVs are distributed much closer to the points where power is consumed, they can enable utilities to defer investments in transmission and distribution infrastructure.

Programs such as ChargeForward also will lower the cost of owning an EV for consumers by compensating them when they volunteer to delay charging. The success of today’s pilot programs will prove essential to accelerating EV adoption while providing a host of benefits to the grid.