I love learning about engineering colleagues who are innovating in new ways — people who are rethinking problems that seem to be up against the proverbial brick wall. Take the current issues with renewable energy. While strides have been made in many areas of solar and wind, the daily (or hourly) variability of these technologies often doesn’t match up with — or may be in opposition to — when power is most needed. Solar cells don’t produce at night and wind can be fickle. That’s created much research over the years into ways to store power for the short term.
One possible domestic solution may be hiding in a surprising place. Recently, I attended an event called a Testival, hosted by Lincoln Electric in Cleveland. Testivals are conducted by CharIN, a global non-profit seeking to bring the automotive industry together to create consensus on charging standards and best practices. Here, engineers discuss not just things like power, but other equally important issues such as data, billing, and privacy. When you take your EV to a new charging station, how does the charger know the vehicle’s not stolen? How does it share your credit card information to complete the transaction? How does it know if the electrical connection is safe and secure? Many of these issues must be discussed and refined and tested before rolling them out to the general public. And there are a lot more EVs to come in the next few years.
“If you think about today’s market [probably] less than 1% of the electric vehicles that will be sold are sold; 99% of electric vehicles haven’t been sold yet. What we’re doing here at these Testival events helps ensure that any charger from any company can work reliably and seamlessly with any vehicle from any company,” said Oleg Logvinov, Chair of CharIN North America and President and CEO of IoTecha Corp.
While charging has been a one-way street for most EV owners in the United States, bidirectionality is a new feature on the horizon. With bidirectionality, energy can be moved from the vehicle’s battery back into the grid, to power home appliances during a blackout, or elsewhere that power is needed. Currently, this two-way technology is a bit more advanced in Europe than it is in the U.S., but we’re starting to catch up.
Logvinov points to fleets of school buses in the U.S. as a potential storage solution. School buses are perfect candidates for enabling bidirectionality because they run in the mornings and the afternoons. The rest of the time they tend to be stationary. They have fairly predictable routes and usage patterns (even with the occasional school trip or away football game). What’s more, they generally sit still for most of summer.
“Imagine that you have even a 100-kilowatt hour battery, but you have thousands of them,” said Logvinov. “It’s a huge energy storage opportunity — all of a sudden, we have the ability to take energy we are getting from wind and solar, store it there and when necessary, and release it back. All of a sudden, we solve one of the greatest problems that we’re facing today.”
Bidirectionality adds another interesting thing to the mix. With an ICE vehicle, we’re used to dumping money into it. You buy a car, the value decays over time, and there are constant maintenance costs. EVs may now be able offer different opportunities, as they can become a grid stabilization resource by managing the load — and this could eventually earn the car owner money.
“Utilities are willing to pay for the energy that you can either remove from the consumption or energy that you can get back. It’s pretty good currency. And all of a sudden, there are changes in mentality about being able to upgrade those assets,” said Logvinov.
Logvinov said that they conducted a test with a bidirectionally capable Lucid vehicle just prior to the pandemic. A vehicle parked at Lucid’s office in Fremont, Calif., based on idle time and PG&E’s rates, was generating $5,400 annually, from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. The utility would charge the vehicle with cheap energy rates during low demand periods and discharge when rates were more expensive, and demand increased. And $5,400 a year is significant; it means the vehicle is now an asset. Certainly, the payback will vary greatly depending on the geographic location and local rates, but this has the potential to be a game changer.
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Filed Under: Batteries, Energy Storage, Onboard Charging