California puts pedal to the metal to gain acceptance of vehicle-to-microgrid technology

May 20, 2022
Only a few programs are now in place to test the viability of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and vehicle-to-microgrid programs. But in California — a state that is threatened by wildfire-related power outages — the pressure is on to speed adoption of the promising technology.

Only a few programs are now in place to test the viability of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and vehicle-to-microgrid programs. But in California — a state that is threatened by wildfire-related power outages — the pressure is on to speed adoption of the promising technology.

To explore the intricacies of V2G and vehicle-to-microgrid programs, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has approved an $11.7 million, customer-funded program from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for three pilot projects involving residential and commercial V2G plus a vehicle-to-microgrid pilot.

This includes a $1.5 million vehicle-to-microgrid pilot that aims to provide resilience during public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) — forced utility outages to avert wildfires — and to reduce the use of diesel during these events. Under the program, up to 200 residential and commercial behind-the-meter electric vehicles (EVs) will charge and discharge in a multicustomer microgrid located in a high fire threat area. The microgrid — whose location has not yet been identified — will include solar and other resources on PG&E’s side of the meter and will energize an isolated distribution line segment during PSPS events, lowering the need for diesel generators during these events, said Paul Doherty, spokesman for PG&E.

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The microgrid will be located on a distribution line that has underground wires and, therefore, isn’t subject to fire, he said.

This effort may help solve PG&E’s wildfire woes, which have led to increased use of diesel generators in high fire threat areas, and help ensure customers have power during these events.

Environmentalists aren’t happy with the diesel use. A report by ADL Ventures found that using diesel generators to grapple with fire risks and PSPS costs $182/kW a year plus fuel costs and emits half a pound of particulate emissions per MWh. PG&E is looking for diesel alternatives to provide resilience to its customer base at low cost and low environmental impact, the report said.

Vehicle-to-microgrid barriers

The vehicle-to-microgrid pilot project would address a number of barriers, including developing controls and operational procedures to integrate EV resources into the microgrid, technical capabilities, cost and customer convenience, said the CPUC resolution. It aims to support community resiliency by 2023.

The filing is part of a larger effort from the CPUC to speed implementation of vehicle-to-grid, vehicle-to-home and vehicle-to-microgrid projects by 2030. Senate Bill 676 created the Public Utilities Code Section 740.16, requiring the CPUC to establish strategies to maximize the use of cost-effective EV integration into the electrical grid, said the CPUC resolution.

There are plenty of financial, technical and regulatory issues to explore, Doherty said. They include questions about how to:

  • Maximize the cost-effectiveness of EV charging in providing grid services.
  • Use vehicle-to-everything technologies to lower the costs of EV ownership.
  • Integrate bidirectional charging technologies into utility programs.
  • Address the lack of market signals for vehicle-to-everything.
  • Incentivize EV owners to participate in vehicle-to-everything programs.
  • Ensure disadvantaged community members benefit from EVs and bidirectional technologies.

“There are a lot of learnings that will be gleaned from these pilots to help develop programs and rules to incentivize EV export to the grid,” said Doherty. “These pilots will address the lack of real-world experience.”

Additional V2G pilots

The other pilots are a $7.5 million V2G residential program and a $2.7 million V2G commercial program.

The three-year residential pilot is designed to spur adoption of bidirectional technologies for 1,000 single-family residential customers with light-duty EVs, said the CPUC decision. It aims to show how the technology can cut the cost of EV ownership “once barriers are overcome.” It will focus on five value streams: backup power, customer bill management, real-time energy, renewable integration and EV export for grid services such as system capacity and system resource adequacy, according to the CPUC resolution.

The residential pilot will begin this year and run until 2024, and participants will receive rebates starting at $2,500 to partially offset the upfront costs of bidirectional charging, with an additional $500 upfront incentive for customers in areas designated as environmental social justice communities. Participants could also receive up to $2,000 for participating, said the CPUC.

The third pilot, a three-year program, focuses on bidirectional charging fleets of medium and heavy duty EVs that charge at commercial buildings, said the CPUC resolution. PG&E plans to sign up 200 or more bidirectional EVs and show how the technology can cut the cost of EV ownership. The pilot will pay upfront incentives of $2,500-$3,000 and ongoing participant incentives of about $151 per EV per month or $1,812 per year, said the CPUC. PG&E will increase upfront incentives by 20% in environmental social justice communities.

The pilot proposals were generally supported by the Vehicle-Grid Integration Council and CALSTART, which promotes clean transportation. Both organizations provided input into the programs, according to the CPUC resolution.

Community microgrid uptick

Meanwhile, PG&E is seeing “tremendous interest” in its Community Microgrid Enablement Program, said Doherty.

The program offers technical and financial support for qualifying projects in areas with the greatest energy resilience needs.

The soon-to-be-complete Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid, a 100% renewable, front-of-the-meter community microgrid, is expected to begin operating soon, and PG&E expects many more community microgrids to come — some with EV batteries as resources.

“We are open for business to start getting those resilient solutions identified, scoped and engineered,” said Doherty. “We’re looking at adding resiliency through EV batteries for the [high fire threat] communities,” he said.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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