How EVs Can Back Up the Grid

September 2, 2022

Old idea has new relevance as California staggers under record temperatures.

Fast Company:

While temperatures surge in California this weekend—straining the electric grid as millions of people crank up air-conditioning—some electric cars will automatically adjust when they charge to help avoid blackouts. The cars will always be ready to use when drivers need them. But by tweaking the timing, the system can help keep the grid running smoothly.

WeaveGrid is a San Francisco-based startup that builds software to connect EV drivers to the grid. It’s working with the local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), to pilot a new program that pays drivers to enroll their cars in smart charging. “We’re talking about thousands of drivers,” says WeaveGrid cofounder and CEO Apoorv Bhargava. “So that’s a pretty huge amount of load that we’re going to be moving off of peak.”

It’s similar to “virtual power plant” software in homes, which can help automatically adjust thermostats or run appliances at the best time to keep the grid operating in the face of increasing challenges from climate change. WeaveGrid’s pilot with PG&E will also take into account the risk from wildfires. When the weather is especially hot, dry, and windy, the utility may have to shut down some power lines to help avoid sparking a fire. But the system can ensure that when a shutoff is planned, electric cars are charged in advance.

Eventually, electric cars will also likely be used as batteries, helping store extra power from renewable energy, and sending it back into the grid when it’s needed. “As renewables become more prominent in electricity generation, you will see spikes—it’s not like it used to be with coal plants or nuclear plants, where the amount of electricity generated is more or less uniform through time,” says Heta Gandhi, a PhD student at the University of Rochester who has studied how vehicle-to-grid charging can benefit both the grid and drivers. “It depends on how much wind we have, or how much sun we have. When there are those spikes, you can charge your electric vehicle, and it can act as a storage device.”

Right now, most drivers don’t yet have bidirectional chargers that can send power back to the grid, and car companies and utilities also need to set up systems so EVs can be used in that way. (Some pilots are already underway, including with larger electric vehicles like school buses.) But even if cars simply adjust the timing of when they charge, that alone can make a huge difference.

“Our goal here at the company is to ensure that EVs are not going to be a challenge to the grid,” says Bhargava. “Yeah, at the end of the day, EVs are a massive new type of load. But what we’re trying to enable is that they can become a really powerful asset to the grid, rather than being a liability.” If cars charge when there’s extra renewable energy available, for example, grid operators can avoid curtailing wind or solar power.

Autoweek:

The Ford F-150 Lightning might be one of the most important cars to roll out of Ford’s workshop since 1949. While this new pickup will likely normalize electric vehicles for a number of EV skeptics, the Lightning’s usefulness extends beyond its payload, towing, and capabilities to acting as a full-on generator—because the Lightning can also power your home in the event of a loss of power. Let’s look at how this is done.

It’s actually pretty simple. Pushing electricity back into your home is almost as easy as taking electricity out: You just leave it plugged into the 80-amp Ford Charge Station Pro and home management system. Normally when plugged in, the truck will be drawing power from the grid to charge its batteries; if power gets cut, however, that charge stream will reverse, feeding back from the truck’s batteries. Of course, you’ll have to have the Charge Station Pro installed before a major power outage for this to work, and Ford reminds us that your house will also need to disconnect from the electrical grid, which makes sense—we doubt the Ford F-150 Lightning has enough juice in its battery to back feed enough power for your entire city.

It’s actually pretty simple. Pushing electricity back into your home is almost as easy as taking electricity out: You just leave it plugged into the 80-amp Ford Charge Station Pro and home management system. Normally when plugged in, the truck will be drawing power from the grid to charge its batteries; if power gets cut, however, that charge stream will reverse, feeding back from the truck’s batteries. Of course, you’ll have to have the Charge Station Pro installed before a major power outage for this to work, and Ford reminds us that your house will also need to disconnect from the electrical grid, which makes sense—we doubt the Ford F-150 Lightning has enough juice in its battery to back feed enough power for your entire city.

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