General Motors and Pacific Gas and Electric are collaborating to see how electric vehicles may be used to power people’s homes during a blackout — or even feed power back into the grid during peak demand. The trial will take place in PG&E’s home state of California, where wildfires are straining the state’s electricity infrastructure.
GM is the latest automaker to collaborate with a utility on “vehicle-to-grid” technology. (PG&E has also collaborated with BMW on a similar concept.) The concept is to employ bi-directional charging equipment to push and pull energy from electric vehicles at the same time. In essence, it views high-capacity batteries as backup storage cells for the electrical system as well as instruments for powering EVs.
According to Rick Spina, GM’s vice president of EV commercialisation, the firm intends to have “1 million units of EV capacity” in North America by 2025. Unlike other automakers, GM has yet to create an EV with “vehicle-to-load” capability, although Spina stated that this will be corrected soon with an over-the-air software update.
“We’re on the verge of converting our EVs into a source of power for our consumers,” Spina remarked. “And these customers are completely unaware of it.”
This summer, GM will test bi-directional charging technology at PG&E’s Northern California facility, as well as “software-defined communication protocols” that would allow power to flow automatically from a charged EV into a person’s home when the power goes out. Later, GM and PG&E will pick a small group of California consumers to test these technologies in their own homes, with the goal of conducting larger customer trials by the end of the year.
“Imagine a future in which every garage has an EV that serves as a backup power supply anytime it is needed,” Spina remarked.
There are still many unknowns, such as how GM will transfer power from the EV battery from direct current to alternating current. Spina stated that the firm has yet to decide whether that procedure will take place in the vehicle itself or through another piece of equipment, such as a wall-mounted charger.
The potential, according to Spina, is to move away from filthy, gas-powered generators and toward something cleaner and more useful. According to Spina, the average California home uses about 20 kilowatt-hours of power every day, but the Chevy Bolt has a battery with a capacity of 60kWh. That equates to at least two or three days’ worth of electricity for a single residence, according to him.
Other options include deploying a large number of EVs to “smooth” the grid during peak demand periods, such as a summer heatwave. In those instances, Spina said he may see some sort of “customer benefit” payment made to EV owners who use their vehicles to return power back into the grid.
PG&E, based in San Francisco, serves a region that is ripe for testing vehicle-to-grid technologies. It already has over 320,000 electric vehicles. According to the utility, this represents nearly 20% of all electric vehicles in the United States. California is predicted to have 5 million EVs on the road by 2030. (Last year, California became the first state to prohibit the sale of internal combustion engines in the future.)
With a large enough number of EVs connected to the grid, they might become significant “virtual power plants.” These are essentially networks of linked batteries that utilities may be able to rely on collectively when they require extra power. Residential solar power systems that are linked together can also serve the same purpose. The expectation is that by working together, all of those batteries will reduce grid stress during peak demand. Virtual power plants might potentially be used to replace polluting, fossil-fueled “peaker plants,” which utilities have traditionally relied on when they are short on energy.