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EV's, Helping or Hurting the Grid?

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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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Despite the pandemic, global plug-in vehicle sales were up last year.   From 2.26 million in 2019 to 3.24 million in 2020.  Currently, Europe is in the lead with almost 1.4 million vehicles registered during 2020, which is 137 percent more than in 2019.  How will the increased sales of EV’s impact the grid?  The amount of electricity used to power the EV fleet in this country was 4.68 TWh in 2020.  That is 21.3 percent more than in 2019, largely due to the increase in charging stations.  As sales climb, how will utilities supply the growing demand? Confident that the rate of EV sales will not exceed the rate of increased grid capacity, Samantha Houston, vehicles analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says “It’s a nonissue.” According to a recent study by the Department of Energy, the U.S. has more than enough electric generating capacity to power every EV expected to hit the road through 2028. Houston continued, “The (electric) grid is well equipped to supply EVs today and in the near term.”  So until demand exceeds supply, utilities have time to collect and review the data, and consider their options.  Rob Threlkeld, General Motors global manager of sustainable energy, supply and reliability, said “The transition to electric vehicles will take place over many years.”  On the transition, Threlkeld continued, “Automakers are working with utilities to optimize it.”

BMW and PG&E are collaborating to see how EV’s could stabilize the grid in California.  San Francisco is already home to more than 320,000 electric vehicles and using EV batteries as energy storage for the grid could be invaluable under the right circumstances.  “The amount of energy storage you have driving on four wheels is much more than any electric utility will ever build and put on the grid. So it now starts to make sense that you use this as a resource to stabilize the grid,” Gerbrand Ceder, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.  A test run by the two companies will evaluate whether vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging would prematurely wear out a battery and how well batteries would perform when providing energy to PG&E.  EV Connect, Battery Innovation Center (BIC) and Energy Systems Network are also exploring large-scale vehicle-to-grid developments.  Their testing aims to generate data on overall battery life, the number of available cycles and an understanding of discharge rates.  "This project is designed to deliver previously unavailable data and lessons about a technology that will quickly move into the mainstream, and the partnership with an industry leader like EV Connect is critical to generating real-world data," said Tim O'Hara, managing director, ESN. "Testing communications protocols, battery conditions, and uncovering the inevitable unknowns is vital for the many industry stakeholders involved in the future of V2G.”

Platts Analytics Future Energy Outlooks estimate that in 2025, EV load could top 15 TWh and reaching 44 TWh by 2030 and 107 TWh in 2035.  The facts are, EV sales are rising and it will impact the grid.  The question is, how?  Theoretically, a network of car batteries plugged in to every home and connected to the grid could provide backup power as a virtual power plant.  In theory, it sounds perfect but in reality more date is required. Also, if the numbers add up, how soon could theory become a reality?  Is V2G as an opportunity or a pitfall?  How is your utility tackling this challenge?

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