Vehicle-to-Grid Programs Give Rise to Mobile Microgrids

Sept. 24, 2021
As vehicle-to-grid programs take hold, electric vehicles are being transformed into mobile microgrids that support the grid when it’s under stress.

In recent years, a few utilities have begun testing vehicle-to-grid (V2G) projects to determine whether electric vehicles (EVs) or EV fleets can support the grid when it’s stressed — making the vehicles into mobile microgrids.

Nissan Leaf, photo courtesy of Fermata Energy

The idea is that EVs can serve as mobile microgrids available to help supply power to the grid or reduce power consumption when the grid is stressed. They can also pitch in when the sun goes down and power to replace solar is needed.

These programs are growing and demonstrating the value of relying on EVs to support the grid.

One recent project is a five-bus EV fleet provided by Lion Electric and used by the White Plains, New York, school district. In December 2020, the buses began providing power to Con Edison customers, which was the first time in the state that buses fed power into a utility grid.

The buses serve as mobile microgrids, charging and discharging at a depot in North White Plains. They plug into a charger when demand for power from Con Ed is low, and reverse the flow into the grid when the buses aren’t taking kids to and from school. The project is going as planned, said Brian Alexander, director of public relations for Lion Electric.

A new partnership between electric mobility company Revel, clean energy developer NineDot Energy and vehicle-to-grid company Fermata Energy wants to take the mobile microgrid idea to new levels with a pilot program in Brooklyn, New York. Three Nissan Leaf EVs will provide power to Con Edison.

Revel has a long-term goal of using its fleet of electric ride-sharing vehicles — all Tesla EVs — to support the grid in New York City and elsewhere, said Paul Suhey, co-founder of Revel. Right now, the Teslas, which aren’t bidirectional, are not being used in the pilot.

Where mobile microgrids can help

David Slutzky, founder and CEO of Fermata Energy, said bidirectional EVs would have helped the Texas grid in February when it ran low on power. EVs can also help western utilities grappling with drought and high demand in the summer, he said. The EVs can also provide power to help meet the demand created by EV charging.

“They are the solution to the grid’s need for storage to address climate change and the transition to renewables,” said Slutzky.

Under the pilot program, three of Fermata’s FE-15 bidirectional DC chargers and three Nissan Leaf EVs will be installed and tested at Revel’s maintenance facility in the Bed–Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, with 45 kW of on-demand power from the EVs flowing to Con Edison, beginning next year.

Also located at the Bed-Stuy facility, but not involved in this project, is Revel’s EV fast-charging hub, a universal fast-charging station with 25 DC fast chargers and a 7-MW grid connection.

Revel hopes that its growing number of superhubs, like the one in Bed-Stuy, will be enrolled in utility demand response programs. In addition, Revel is looking at installing energy storage batteries and, at some point, sending power to the grid via its EV fleet or reducing demand from chargers during peak hours, said Suhey.

What’s needed for vehicle-to-grid success

In order for vehicle-to-grid programs to be successful and reap income for the EV owners, three things are needed, said Adam Cohen, chief technology officer of NineDot Energy.

First, bidirectional vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, need to be used.

Second, bidirectional chargers like those supplied by Fermata are needed.

And third, local utilities need to offer incentives. Many utilities offer demand response programs under which EVs can control charging loads to avoid charging during peak demand periods on the grid. Con Edison and other New York state utilities also offer a Value of Distributed Energy Resources Value Stack tariff, under which distributed energy resource (DER) providers are compensated based on the time of day and the location of the DER. For example, if EV owners can provide power during peak demand periods, they’ll be paid more than during off-peak periods.

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“In practice, the grid exports will only be provided during specific utility call windows and peak events when the exports provide the most resilience and reliability benefits to the local power grid,” said Cohen. These windows are called “demand reduction value call windows” under the tariff. The call windows are specific to the local power grid conditions and aim to match the times when grid exports are the most beneficial, he said.

“V2G holds the potential to help us reduce carbon emissions while maintaining our industry-leading reliability, which are both top priorities for Con Edison,” said Karl-Erik Stromsta, a spokesman for Con Edison, who said he wasn’t in a position to confirm the details of the pilot.

A study by E Source found that Nissan Leaf owners, in general, could earn up to $9,000 annually using Level 2 chargers at a workplace when using the cars to manage monthly demand on the grid, said Bryan Jungers, director of mobility at E Source, a data science firm. The minimum they would earn would be about $1,800 a year.

Pilots elsewhere

In addition to the pilot from Revel and its partners, a number of other vehicle-to-grid programs are underway.

A 2018 pilot by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) found that vehicle-to-home technology is technically capable of islanding and supporting household load during outages and demand response events, said Ari Vanrenen, a spokesperson for PG&E.

Customers also expressed high interest. “However, the technology is not yet commercially available and vehicle warranties must be modified to allow for discharge, the cost to customers exceeds their perceived benefits, and the net benefits to the utility and ratepayers are likely not sufficient to surmount the low cost-effectiveness for customers,” she said.

That conclusion didn’t sway the utility from implementing new pilot projects.

PG&E has submitted proposals to the California Public Utilities Commission for additional EV projects, including residential and commercial vehicle-to-grid projects as well as vehicle-to-microgrid projects.

Slutzky of Fermata said that his company is working with numerous utilities and has begun deploying 25 bidirectional chargers, half of which are earning money for customers or participating in utility pilot projects. They should all be operating in the next few months, he said.

Fermata is working with the city of Boulder, Colorado, Green Mountain Power, Roanoke Electric Cooperative and other organizations, he said.

For Revel, the Brooklyn pilot project is the first step in its mission to lead cities into a carbon-free future, said Suhey, whose company owns, operates and controls its fleet of Teslas.

“A car is a mobile storage asset; it can move to different places on the grid, where needed. We are working with utilities and hardware and software partners to pilot the technology and are learning as we go,” Suhey 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

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