It's been said that utilities see electric vehicles as batteries on wheels. A university project to use electric cars to stabilize the grid has brought utility NRG to put that idea to the test.
NRG Energy said today that it will partner with eV2g, a project developed at the University of Delaware to earn EV drivers money by providing services to grid operators. The technology behind the system is being developed by University of Delaware professor Willett Kempton.
The system treats a network of electric or hybrid electric vehicle batteries as a distributed energy source. Plugged-in vehicles provide a quick burst of power or slow charging rates to maintain a steady frequency on the grid. That grid-stabilizing job is usually done by specialized natural gas plants that ramp up and down production to maintain a balance between power supply and demand.
Initially, NRG Energy said that electric vehicle fleet owners will participate in a program to let grid operators take control of vehicle batteries during peak times. In exchange for participating, EV owners get paid for providing these grid services.
Vehicle owners can control how much energy can be drawn from batteries and ensure that a minimum charge remains, according to NRG and the University of Delaware. The service will eventually be made available to consumers, they said.
"The energy storage inherent in automobiles is staggering. If all the automobiles in the U.S. were electrified it would be enough to power the entire U.S. for half a day," said David Weir, the director of University of Delaware's office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships, in a statement.
In theory, fleet owners will be able to defray the cost of electric vehicles, where batteries are the most costly component. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, citing the University of Delaware's work, said at a grid conference last year that an electric car owner could make $3,000 a year selling services, such as frequency regulation, to the wholesale grid operators.
In addition to technical challenges, one of the barriers to this sort of vehicle-to-grid application is related to grid regulations that were designed around power plants, rather than distributed energy storage.
NRG Energy is setting up a network of public electric charging stations as well as home charge ports but the utility and the University of Delaware did not indicate when they expect a vehicle-to-grid service to be available.