Electric vehicles plugged into the grid could make owners a bundle

Aside from the premium pricing, electric vehicles with lithium ion batteries look great on paper. They are quiet, require much less maintenance than their gasoline-powered counterparts, cost little to operate, help reduce dependence on foreign oil, save the planet and smell like cookies. Okay, I made up that last bit.

Nevertheless, there may soon be yet another attractive incentive to purchase an EV: the advancement of Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) systems, where an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid can actually communicate with the local power grid and help balance electricity loads by, get this, selling its spare electricity.

Energy researchers and electric vehicle developers are looking to V2G systems as part of the future of EV technology, as evidenced by a recent announcement from AC Propulsion, manufacturer of the eBox, which is basically a Scion converted into an electric car. AC Propulsion has just announced that they have exported an eBox to the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). There, it will participate in a research program working to advance the integration of EVs with Denmark’s electric power grid.

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The eBox was chosen because the DTU is already equipped with AC Propulsion’s patented integrated charger, which allows for grid-connected charging and, more importantly, grid-connected discharging — which one might think of as “offloading excess electricity.”

While EVs are currently enjoying a groundswell of popularity, integrating their use with an infrastructure as widespread and ubiquitous as the electrical grid itself could only be a boon to their wholesale adoption. “Integration between the power grid and electric vehicles will become essential and beneficial as EV numbers increase over the next decade,” said Tom Gage, CEO of AC Propulsion.

The research conducted in Denmark piggybacks on earlier studies first conducted at the University of Delaware where they’re studying communication and control systems between vehicles and grids. There, a fleet of five eBox EVs has been providing energy back to the grid for the past two years. Both Denmark and Delaware universities are working with Nuvve, the San Diego firm that developed the technology and structural design that allows EVs to sell power back to the grid in the first place.

Denmark is considered an ideal location for a V2G research program due to the country’s huge capacity for renewable but discontinuous power generated by a plethora of offshore wind farms. The research will focus on buffering the intermittent energy sources by storing excess energy generated during windy periods in parked EVs and then sending it back to the grid during periods of high demand. Thus, EVs may be the solution to stabilize an unreliable but clean energy source.

The entire concept of V2G technology hinges on the estimate that an EV is parked 95 per cent of the time. Plugged in, V2G technology will see the EV charged up as expected, but also allow its batteries to discharge stored electricity back to the grid if it’s not expected to be needed for driving. An EV that only take three hours to charge and maybe two hours to drive to and from work, for example, has a whole lot of extra time to just sit there and share its electrical storage capacity with the local power company. More than simply sharing, of course, Nuvve expects the EV owner to actually sell the stored energy for cash or credit.

Nuvve estimates that an EV owner can bring in $10,000 worth of revenue over the life span of their EV just by selling energy back to the grid — providing a further incentive for consumers to invest in an electric vehicle.

As for the bigger picture, V2G appeals to governments looking to reduce dependence on fossil fuel energy sources. To date, a variety of local and national tax credits, incentive programs and rebates are already helping consumers carry the cost of an EV’s initial purchase price, but EVs that actually return the economic favor would be good for all parties.

Meanwhile, corporations are also looking to embrace the green motoring future. McDonald’s, for example, is offering EV plug-in stations at a growing number of select restaurants. Conceivably, a V2G future could see your Nissan Leaf footing the bill for your McMuffin and coffee every morning. Or some of it, anyway.