Getting a Head Start on Vehicle-to-Grid: Exclusive Interview with Paige Mullen, Project Manager at DREEV - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

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Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Oct 1, 2019

It wasn’t too long ago that utilities looked at the tea leaves of vehicle electrification and only saw problems: how would the grid handle an influx of such high demand draws of energy, what would happen to grid stability if all those cars were plugged in at the same time, and would the infrastructure be ready in time? All of those challenges are still ever-present in the minds of leaders in the energy industry, but alongside those challenges is the realization of the immense potential for grid-wide benefits that can be found by smartly leveraging electric vehicle (EV) demand in Vehicle-to-Grid services (V2G).

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These opportunities are the auspices EDF and NUVVE created the joint venture DREEV. DREEV is looking to develop V2G solutions that will benefit both utility and customer, and it’s this work that Paige Mullen, a Project Manager with DREEV, will be sharing with the attendees of this week’s Smart Grid Flexibility 2019 conference.

Paige’s presentation is called “Vehicle-to-Grid Services – preparing the energy system for the mass uptake of EVs and exploring their potential as a flexible asset delivering Vehicle-to-Grid response.” To tease out that topic a bit ahead of her presentation, Paige was kind enough to jump on a call with me to chat about this important area:

Matt Chester: Thanks for taking the time to talk, Paige. Can you start by discussing a little bit about your background and how you got involved with Vehicle-to-Grid and the utility sector in general?

Paige Mullen: Prior to joining Nuvve/Dreev, I worked for Pacific Gas and Electric out of San Francisco.  There, I worked in their energy regulations looking at the electrification of transportation.  After going to grad school, I came back to the utility and worked in demand response and vehicle-grid integration.  There, I worked on a project with the BMW called BMW iChargeForward, where we used BMW i3s and second-life batteries from EVs in order to provide a demand response resource. 

During grad school in the Rocky Mountains I worked for Tesla and really liked the connection between vehicles and the electric grid. If we want to electrify, how are we going to do that in an intelligent way?  Vehicle-to-Grid really helps provide a solution to that.  It provides value to the end-user, the person that owns the vehicle, if they can lower their total ownership cost, but it always provide value to the utility because it allows the EVs – something that is typically a highly-dynamic and unpredictable kilowatt-scale resource-- to become predictable, dispatchable, and manageable.  Those are very valuable qualities, particularly when you're looking at spiking loads at the end of the distribution network. 


MC: What is unique about the NUVVE platform and how do you see this solution being able to break through into the V2G area, create virtual power plants, and become widely adopted?

PM: Our technology has been refined to take each individual vehicle and treat it as an individual, not just blanketing across an entire aggregation and having all cars do the same thing.  We really manage each asset individually, so you have to know the battery size; what are those driver's constraints; when is that driver leaving, and how much energy do they have to do?  That's where I think our aggregation method is very complex.  You're treating each kilowatt-scale asset differently.  It allows it to be very dynamic and very scalable.  That's one very unique thing about the platform from our technology side as well as our experience in this.

We're working on five continents right now, and we've been commercially active in Denmark for over three years now, providing Vehicle-to-Grid services using frequency regulation-- not just Vehicle-to-Home but actually Vehicle-to-Grid. I think those are some really unique things that NUVVE's experience brings and that we kind of have that wide range of experience.


MC: In pursuing these V2G solutions, you note that they bring value to the transmission system, the distribution system, and behind the meter. Are there any downsides, or at least perceptions of downsides, that must be dealt with before the technology and strategy can be more widely implemented?

PM: I think that's an important question to address.  From the perception side, one of the big ones that we hear a lot is: Is this going to damage the battery?  We've been doing V2G commercially for over three years, and we've seen no added degradation.  With vehicle-to-grid, we manage your battery within very safe parameters, we never go all the way to the top or all the way to the bottom.  It doesn't necessarily put full new cycles on a battery like a general conception might be, and by working within really safe parameters, we ensure the battery stays in front of the optimal range. 

We've seen some batteries with better health from doing Vehicle-to-Grid, and there are some studies that are looking at the question of whether these services could actually increase the life.  You're managing the battery in a more sustainable way than just charging all the way up to full every day when you get home.  That's one thing we see with typical batteries like cell phones.  You plug it in, it charges to full, and then you keep it on that plug so that it stays charging, and it stays fully charged.  That's not good for the battery, so by maintaining them in the middle of state of charge, you can really mitigate those issues that come with hitting the upper and lower limits of batteries. 

Another area or hurdle that we need to overcome for mass adoption is hardware, both on the vehicle side as well as the physical infrastructure side for the charges.  Both of those still have quite a ways to come, but they're starting to come along.  We are seeing more V2G hardware coming to market and more V2G capable vehicles in the pipeline. Once the price begins to drop with volumes it will only increase the value of the business case for V2G.

MC: When you look at the indicators across the EV market and the potential for utilities to embrace full V2G solutions, do you have any insights on which regions, countries, or utilities will prove to be leaders in the sector? Are there any specific areas that are looking to be trailblazers for the strategy?

PM: Some of the big areas that we've seen include our partnership and joint venture with EDF. They've really taken a big stance in Europe, specifically in starting to put out fully commercial offers for V2G so that is commercial, not a subsidized offer or trials which we do see in a lot of other regions.  

Additionally, a U.S.-based example is Dominion Energy in Virginia.  They've recently put out that they're going to buy electric school buses that are V2G capable. These buses are recognized and funded as grid assets.  That's a really big step, the first of its kind that we've ever seen of a utility directly recognizing electric vehicles as grid assets and the values they bring.  


MC: Vehicle-to-Grid promises to be one of the most discussed topics at this year’s Smart Grid Flexibility Conference. However, are there other topics of interest that you hope to come away having learned more about as you meet with industry leaders?

PM: I'm looking forward to learning more about the DSO transition.  How are we going to be managing EVs, or any form of distributed energy resources on the local networks where there is a lack of transparency? There are a lot of very exciting innovations going on in that area and a lot of change as we start to get better monitoring and metering coming in.  We're starting to unlock new markets in those areas where we don't know what the value is yet or how those are going to play out, these unknown areas are always interesting to me.

I'm also really looking forward to discussions on local grid planning and how we can start to enable better optimization and use of these end-of-the-network assets, whether it's solar, residential storage, EVs, etc.  The way I see the future trending is that there's not going to be just one element that wins out in the end, it's not going to be one technology necessarily that's going to be superior, but it's really going to be how well we can intelligently optimize and bring all of these different assets together to make it the most flexible, dynamic, and cost-efficient network we can. 


If you're interested in learning more about Vehicle-to-Grid, be sure to attend Paige Mullen’s presentation on this topic at the Smart Grid Flexibility 2019 conference this week in London, UK. You can learn more about the agenda and register for the conference here.


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