The Fuse

V2G Moves from Laboratory to Practice in Air Force Demo

by Paul Ruiz | @pmruiz | February 17, 2016

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As a result of an agreement with NRG Energy, University of Delaware EVs have been altered to allow for the bidirectional flow of energy at a moments’ notice, channeling electricity from the cars’ batteries back onto the grid.

On the site of an old Chrysler plant in Newark, Delaware, several electric cars are parked alongside a repurposed industrial garage, each with a power cord connecting the car to its main fuel supply. Some of the time, electricity here flows unidirectionally—recharging the vehicles’ battery packs at night when demand is low and rates are economical—but these cars are not your conventional EVs. As a result of an agreement with NRG Energy, University of Delaware EVs have been altered to allow for the bidirectional flow of energy at a moments’ notice, channeling electricity from the cars’ batteries back onto the grid.

 “It’s using a battery to balance fluctuations in the electric system,” says Willett Kempton, who heads a University of Delaware research team focused on vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies.

When combined with a very large pool of electric vehicle batteries, V2G can help utilities balance short periods of supply and demand imbalances in the electrical grid and even lower bills by using locally generated power from solar or wind. According to the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon Free Power Integration, these cars can charge or discharge 19 kW of electrical capacity, the average power consumption of 12 U.S. homes.

Last year, the average U.S. household spent $1,768 on gas, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says, $700 less than 2014, and a third consecutive year of decline. However, these savings are invariably linked to the price of oil, which in mid-January once again entered a period of heightened volatility. V2G technology may provide consumers—many of whom may be in the market for an EV—with a contrastingly reliable revenue stream. In partnership with PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission operator serving several Mid-Atlantic states, Dr. Kempton and his research team found their electric vehicles’ batteries—plugged in most of the time and charging and discharging at 12kW—generate $5 per vehicle per day, or $1,825 annually. “While your car is sitting in the driveway or garage, you’re getting paid,” said Dr. Kempton in an interview with The Fuse.

‘$190 million by 2022’

Electric utilities design the grid to meet peak electricity demand. But when demand exceeds power generation, grid operators rely on backup generators and ancillary services to balance the load for short periods of time. In large cities, the difference between supply and demand can be as large as 40 to 50 percent, according to some studies, presenting challenges to grid reliability and stability. V2G particularly allows EV owners to “peak shave,” absorbing excess energy when demand for power is low and returning some of that energy back to the grid for profit when demand is high. This benefits both EV owners, who can make money, and grid operators, who benefit from the backup power reserve.

“Instead of using large generators for balancing, we could do a lot with electric vehicles that are lower cost and more efficient. As we look to the future, we will have more generation from small solar and wind generators, which of course fluctuate with natural forces,”

Since the average automobile spends 95 percent of the time parked in one place, grid operators can aggregate stationary EV batteries through connected power cords to fine-tune supply and demand mismatches. This process—regulation up and down to meet short term imbalances—is done with minimal impact to the car’s battery, researchers say, adding approximately one driving cycle to the car each month. “Instead of using large generators for balancing, we could do a lot with electric vehicles that are lower cost and more efficient. As we look to the future, we will have more generation from small solar and wind generators, which of course fluctuate with natural forces,” says Kempton.

The automotive research consultancy Navigant estimates that global revenues from V2G will grow from less than $900,000 annually to over $190 million by 2022. But some question what will happen if too many V2G enabled cars enter the market for ancillary services. In California—where lawmakers have set a goal of putting one million zero emissions vehicles on the road by 2020—industry representatives say it is theoretically possible that the widespread use of V2G by consumers with fast-charging capabilities would give the grid access to 10 GW of battery power. Such a scenario depends, of course, on the effective linkage of electricity and transportation infrastructures, as well as the integration of other demand-response activities. Electric utilities are now working with practitioners—notably, the Department of Defense (DOD)—to explore these important questions in smaller deployments across the country.

Applying the Delaware model

At the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, DOD officials are applying the University of Delaware model in the largest pilot demonstration of V2G in the world. “Our focus is showing how this can work in any configuration,” says Camron Gorguinpour, Director of Transformational Innovation for the United States Air Force, in an interview with The Fuse. “We’re using open standards so that other folks can come back after us and replicate what we have done.” The Los Angeles Air Force Base now uses 43 non-tactical vehicles in its V2G program, including 13 Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts, Ford C-MAX Energis, and other mission-relevant pick-up trucks.

“We’re basically riffing off [Kempton’s] concept. You drive a car, and it’s probably the worst asset that you operate because it’s high capital cost, it loses its value precipitously over time, and you almost never use it,” Gorguinpour said.

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Direct participation in the transmission grid market in California required innovative planning for DOD. Under an agreement reached between the entity managing the transmission grid, the California Independent Service Provider (CAISO), the California Public Utilities Commission, and the local electricity distribution utility, Southern California Edison—one of the largest in the state—the L.A. Air Force Base’s V2G program is now permitted to bid directly into the CAISO market for ancillary services. V2G-enabled cars use Open Automated Demand Response technologies that sends instructions to and from the vehicles within a four second time interval. The result is a V2G system that isolates the vehicles’ batteries from any other source.

At 15 kw per vehicle, 100,000 V2G cars would give the grid access to 1.5 GW of bidirectional power, saturating the market for ancillary services. Dr. Gorguinpour has found that financial value would then have to come from other demand response activities, like sensors that can perceive peak load problems and automatically switch power in certain places. Gorguinpour says, “If you had a million [V2G-capable] vehicles in California, you would completely and fundamentally alter the way the grid is managed. That’s the question that’s still outstanding. The future state of the technology depends on the answer to that question.”

The U.S. Defense Department is under various mandates to reduce operational costs and lower fleet-wide petroleum consumption.

The U.S. Defense Department is under various mandates to reduce operational costs and lower fleet-wide petroleum consumption. Executive Order 13423, for instance, requires federal agencies to cut the use of petroleum products by two percent annually and use plug-in hybrids when cost competitive with gasoline-run cars. DOD operates over 200,000 non-tactical vehicles, meaning the successful roll-out of the V2G program at L.A. Air Force—and smaller projects at Fort Hood, Texas and Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland—could signal a wider roll-out.

For now, the Defense Department is working to validate the technology. Over the next several months, Dr. Gorguinpour says officials will be evaluating how much revenue is generated within a specific risk tolerance, and how system operators manage the grid on a consistent basis. Once demonstrated, the military may apply the technology to support tactical operations that support mission-critical endeavors on the ground. For now, the widespread use of V2G in electric vehicles may seem far away, but successful validation of these technologies in Los Angeles and elsewhere could bring them to your doorstep sooner than you think.

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