How vehicle-to-grid technology could get past the pilot stage

UPDATED: Vehicle-to-grid technology — using parked electric vehicles as grid batteries — could help stabilize the grid, while offering electric vehicle owners a profit stream to help cover plug-in cars’ extra costs. But tapping into plug-in batteries also presents a host of technical, regulatory and warranty-related challenges that have kept the V2G idea strictly one for pilot projects — until now, that is.

In my Weekly Update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), I delve into the new V2G plans of Nuvve, the U.S.-based startup that’s taking technology developed at University of Delaware and applying it to markets outside of the U.S. The startup’s first target is Denmark, where it’s seeking to deliver the aggregated capacity of 30 plug-in car batteries to grid operator to help it balance grid frequency.

Nuvve’s technology stems from the work of CTO and University of Delaware professor Willett Kempton, and has been tested out in a project with utility Pepco, mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM and electric drivetrain maker AC Propulsion. Nuvve now holds the license to commercialize that technology outside the U.S., and hopes to have its Danish project up and running by this fall.

Thirty cars won’t provide a massive amount of power. Kempton told me in an interview that the average amount of power available from each vehicle battery will be about 10 kilowatts. Still, adding them all together equals 300 KW of power, and that happens to be the minimum amount allowed for frequency regulation services bidding into Denmark’s power market, he said.

“We’re selling a service that’s going to be of value to a grid operator,” he explained. “The car owner, instead of being our customer, is really our supplier.”

Still, car owners will have to be enticed to allow their cars to be tapped for frequency regulation. Nuvve is considering several methods to do that, including paying owners a flat per-hour fee for keeping their cars plugged in, or offering them a percentage of the monthly payment Nuvve will receive for their portion of power provided to the grid operator. All in all, the company estimates the value should add up to about $10,000 per customer over the life of their EV or plug-in hybrid battery.

Tapping those batteries without decreasing their lifespan is a critical aspect of Nuvve’s plans. Kempton said that frequency regulation — adding or absorbing small increments of power into the grid — should only require two to four minutes of access at a time, keeping discharge cycles low. Even so, Nuvve’s technology is built to interface with software and hardware installed on the vehicle itself, which can be programmed to refuse any request it determines could harm the vehicle or its battery.

One big barrier between Nuvve and scaling up of its V2G plans is getting automakers to participate. UPDATE: Right now, the Nuvve project is featuring can work with EVs with bi-directional drive trains, such as those from Luxgen, which are made via a joint venture of Taiwan’s Yulon Motor Co. and long-time Nuvve technology partner AC Propulsion. Nuvve and other startups that have set their sights on V2G commercialization are going to need more compatible vehicles out in the world to get off the ground.

Image courtesy of Zen via Creative Commons license.