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Two-Way Charging Could Be the Electric Vehicle Future

Pilot projects using bidirectional charging equipment are turning electric vehicles into battery storage units, feeding energy back onto the grid when needed. Fleet vehicles are seen as prime opportunity for the tech.

In the first year and with only one electric car, the city of Boulder, Colo., saved $250 a month in electric charges thanks to a bidirectional car charger.

The pilot project was an attempt to explore the concept of vehicle-to-everything (V2X) car charging, which generally follows the idea of using the EV’s battery to charge when energy is less expensive and then discharge that energy either directly onto the electric grid, or into the building the charger is connected to, as a way to reduce the building's electric needs from the grid.

V2X — often interchanged with vehicle to grid (V2G) — is being explored as another value proposition for EV owners, who are always interested in the long-term cost savings that come with electric cars, as well as a mechanism for designing resiliency and management into the electric grid.

“The amount of EVs that we’re going to see in our garages and parking lots … There is just a massive opportunity there, especially as we think about how do we integrate more renewables, like solar and wind into our grid,” said Russell Vare, director of sales and marketing at Flex Power Control, a maker of bidirectional charging technology and microgrids. Vare was speaking on a panel organized by Veloz this week to discuss the issue. Veloz is a Sacramento, Calif.-based EV advocacy and policy organization.

The idea of using EVs as battery storage — for other outside uses — may sound simple, but it’s a concept still in its infancy and is one that will require the coordination of car makers, technology providers, utilities and regulators to work together to make bidirectional charging and discharging a common feature of owning and operating EVs.

“No one can go it alone; not the utility, not the technology provider and not the customer,” said Jeni Reynolds, director for clean transportation at San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) in some of her comments on the Veloz panel. SDGE is involved in a pilot project to use electric school buses to discharge power when they are not in use.

Buses are stationary at 3 p.m., Reynolds pointed out.

“And that’s when they can provide, back to the grid, that power,” she added. “Really finding the vehicles that have that operational cycle is helpful.”

Another project in New York City will use EVs operated by Revel, a ride-share company. The project will use vehicle-to-everything technology from Fermata Energy and clean energy developer NineDot to deploy a bidirectional charging system that moves energy from vehicles back to the grid.

“They have a bunch of vehicles, and they realized they could make money off of their vehicles,” David Slutzky, founder of Fermata Energy, told Government Technology*.

Fleet vehicles, said Slutzky, are an obvious use case for bidirectional charging arrangements.

“I fully expect this project will scale pretty quickly,” said Slutzky.

“We take a commercial fleet, and we can help them manage their electric bill, discharging the vehicle onto the building load when the building load peaks,” he explained. “The utility is not really involved. It’s just that they have fewer electrons passing through their meter, and so they have a lower bill.”

Yes, fleet customers are a key market application for bidirectional charging, said Slutzky. “But I want to be clear, so are a bunch of others.”

Industry watchers expect more EVs to support bidirectional charging in the coming model years. Today, the Nissan Leaf is perhaps most widely available. However, a key marketing message around the new Ford F-150 Lightning is its ability to serve as an emergency home power source.

“When the power is not available from the grid, we’re able to provide that from the vehicle, through an inverter, a transfer switch,” said Jacob Mathews, manager for EV standards at Ford, in some of his comments on the Veloz panel, adding Ford sees vehicle to grid as a “critical element of getting the value that EVs can bring.”

Editor's note: A quote in this story was adjusted to clarify the role of utilities in the bi-directional charging process.
Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.
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