An experiment in vehicle-to-microgrid integration

car in front of a grid

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Those who read this newsletter regularly know that I occasionally like to geek out over pilot projects that demonstrate the power of new technologies. In that vein, this column is brought to you by the letter B, as in the blockchain.

"But blockchain pilots are a dime a dozen," I can hear some of you grousing. Yes, dear readers, that’s true, and I’d be the first person to whine about which ones are worth coverage. But this one is focused on something we should all watch closely in the year to come: the intersection of microgrids and electric vehicle charging.

As part of a new partnership trumpeted this week, eMotorWerks (part of the energy services arm of mega-utility Enel) and LO3 Energy (the startup behind the much-written-about Brooklyn energy-trading experiment) are getting together. They're connecting Enel’s JuiceNet cloud-based EV charging service with the LO3 energy-transaction system Exergy.

Why did this rise above the other blah, blah, blah hitting my inbox on a daily basis? The integration will produce a real-world trial of a system that allows EV owners to make smart decisions about when they charge their cars. Vehicle batteries long have been mentioned as one way to help stabilize local grids — and as a potential source of new revenue for utilities struggling for relevance in a future powered by distributed, renewable energy.

The tests that these two companies plan to conduct will be used to prove what’s possible and what’s not. They’ll be looking at a number of applications. These include how to help fleet owners reduce charging costs by allowing the owners to respond to pricing fluctuations, or by paying them to let their EV batteries be used as a demand response resource.

"By offering JuiceNet technology as a way for residents to manage charging more efficiently, projects such as our virtual battery in California, and now this partnership with LO2, showcase how powerful smart charging can be for grid services at scales ranging from hyper-local to state and national levels," said Vincent Schacter, senior vice president of energy services at eMotorWerks, in a statement.

What the heck is a virtual battery? Schachter is referring to the company’s 6,000-charger network installed across the Golden State. The combined capacity is 30 megawatts (or 70 megawatt-hours), and it’s actually available to the California Independent System Operator for balancing grid demand. Today. (For perspective, eMotorWerks has sold more than 40,000 of its smart EV charging stations worldwide.)

What the press release doesn’t say is where, exactly, the tests being spearheaded by eMotorWerks and LO3 will take place — although the Brooklyn project is a likely candidate.