Public power utilities, others pursue vehicle-to-grid opportunities

February 1, 2021

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
February 1, 2021

When Washington State’s Snohomish County Public Utility District (SnoPUD) in late 2020 contracted with Mitsubishi Electric, Hitachi ABB and Doosan GridTech to install two electric vehicle-to-grid (V2G) chargers the PUD joined a growing number of utilities pursuing V2G.

The V2G chargers are being sited at Snohomish PUD’s Arlington microgrid site and will be able to charge an electric vehicle and also send the stored energy back to the grid during a power outage. “We see this as an important step in our ‘utility of the future’ vision and for SnoPUD to be one of the premier utilities in the country,” John Haarlow, the utility’s CEO and general manager, said in a statement.

While the Arlington microgrid is a pilot project, it is “an actual functioning system,” Scott Gibson, project manager for the Arlington microgrid, noted last year. There are a lot of similar demonstration projects but “this will be one of the first to truly put a functioning grid connected V2G system together,” he said.

Defining V2G

What exactly are we talking about when it comes to V2G?

Austin, Texas-based Pecan Street notes that V2G technology allows power to flow from the grid to an electric vehicle when the car battery is charging, and vice-versa, from the vehicle back to the grid.

This allows V2G-equipped electric vehicles to act in aggregate as mobile power plants and individually as local energy arbitrage systems, which can improve the efficiency and value of intermittent renewable energy like solar and wind, Pecan Street notes.

Pecan Street is a transportation electrification and V2G research organization.

Austin Energy

Texas-based public power utility Austin Energy worked with Pecan Street to test the use of EVs as peak shaving tools and, eventually, as a grid resource.

The tests, which were conducted at Pecan Street’s laboratory in east Austin, involves the use of an EV capable of bi-directional energy flows, also known as V2G capability, noted Cameron Freberg, Utility Strategist for electric vehicles and emerging technologies at Austin Energy.

The V2G testing center was part of the multi-faceted Austin SHINES (Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV) Project that is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and tests how energy storage can help increase solar power penetration, reduce peak demand, and increase grid resiliency. The project is also in support of the City of Austin achieving its goal of deriving 65% of its energy from renewable resources by 2027.

Widely deployed, V2G technology could allow utilities to aggregate EVs to act as a virtual power plant, Freberg noted. Paired with residential solar installations, EVs could become a source of clean, dispatchable power during periods of peak demand, he said.

As EV sales increase, more and more families have an energy storage system parked in their garage. Pecan Street estimates that each dispatchable V2G electric vehicle could power a home for two to five hours or power up to five homes for about an hour.

Through the SHINES Project, Austin Energy has two grid-scale energy storage installations, commercial scale batteries, homes in its territory that pair solar panels and smart inverters with energy storage batteries, and this V2G component. All of these resources are being controlled through a centralized optimization platform.

“Our goal is maximizing the value of distributed energy resources, and electric vehicles could eventually be a large component of that,” Freberg said. “To achieve that you can start stacking multiple value streams.” Having a fleet of V2G electric vehicles “opens up a whole myriad of resources that we can derive value from,” he said.

Austin Energy has identified as many as 19 possible value streams associated with energy storage and actively investigated six of those streams through the Austin SHINES Project. One possibility would be to have vehicles connected to a commercial building. Austin Energy could then have the ability to dispatch the energy in those vehicles to make sure the commercial customer’s load does not go over a certain level and, therefore, reduces demand charges.

In addition to reducing customer demand charges, some of the use cases Austin Energy is exploring include the use of energy storage to reduce peak load, providing voltage support, and arbitrage energy between times of high demand and high prices and periods of low demand and low prices.

To learn more about the Austin Energy SHINES Project, visit austinenergy.com/go/shines.

California

In California, regulators and public power utilities are also taking steps related to V2G.

The Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) is actively looking at V2G technology, noted SMUD spokesperson Lindsay VanLaningham.

SMUD is partnering with one of the local school districts to test the ability of electric school bus V2G technology to improve customer bill savings, reduce the need for electrical infrastructure (customer panels and service size), consume more renewable energy or lower cost energy, and provide ad hoc charging support such as for field trips. 

Twin Rivers Unified School District (TRUSD) expects to have 59 e-buses and up to 12 V2G charging stations capable of exporting energy back to the grid, in operation by the end of 2021. SMUD is currently working with TRUSD on interconnection requirements and their aggregator for how to schedule dispatch by SMUD. SMUD plans to start testing V2G dispatch capability at the site in the fourth quarter, as soon as the V2G charging stations are operational.  

“Fortunately for this segment, electric school bus manufacturers are providing warrantied support for V2G functionality.  The V2G market is in early stages as the interconnection safety standards for some of the technology is in draft form,” VanLaningham said.

“This initial testing project and lessons learned will pave the way for SMUD to possibly expand to a pilot program for other school districts.  Over the coming years, we expect vehicle manufacturers to build similar technology into other vehicle segments such as residential light duty electric vehicles or other commercial medium/heavy duty segments,” she said.

On the regulatory front, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in December approved a decision that adopts strategies, metrics, and near-term objectives to encourage vehicle grid integration and furthers the integration of EVs as an energy resource that can help meet grid needs.

The decision adopted recommendations from a CPUC vehicle grid integration working group and directed utility engagement on interconnection and rate reform, pilot programs, including the use of vehicle grid integration for resiliency purposes, such as using EVs as emergency backup power for buildings during wildfire-related utility Public Safety Power Shutoffs, and more.

The CPUC said the decision prioritizes investments in low-income and disadvantaged communities with targeted pilot programs, higher incentives, and community engagement.

The proposal voted on by the CPUC is available here:  https://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Published/G000/M355/K104/355104591.PDF.

New England and New York

VG2 is also being pursued on the other side of the country.

At the end of 2020, Vermont power company Green Mountain Power (GMP) said it had successfully deployed what it says is a first-of-its kind vehicle-to-grid charger to reduce energy use on the grid during peak demand.

GMP installed a bi-directional Fermata electric vehicle charger at its Colchester, Vt. office in October. The charger is now drawing energy from the company’s 2019 Nissan Leaf during energy peaks.

In New York State, investor-owned Con Edison in December said that it has begun using the batteries on five electric school buses to provide power to its customers, marking the first time that electricity has flowed from buses into a utility’s grid in the state.

Con Edison and its partners have begun sending power from the batteries into its grid, a milestone in a demonstration project Con Edison began in 2018. The five buses can each discharge 10 kilowatts. For the five buses, that is 50 kilowatts or 50,000 watts.

While acknowledging that is a small amount of power for a utility grid with the capacity to serve millions of homes and businesses in Westchester County and New York City, the utility noted that the goal of the project is to explore the technological and economic potential of using e-school buses on a wider scale to improve air quality and grid reliability.

There are approximately 1,000 school buses operating in Westchester and 8,000 in New York City that could make a significant difference if converted to electric, Con Edison said.

The buses are manufactured by Lion Electric in North America with V2G technology.

Company receives certification for V2G EV charging system

In March 2020, global safety certification company UL announced that Fermata Energy’s bidirectional EV charging system was the first in the world to be certified to a new North American safety standard, UL 9741, the Standard for Bidirectional Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging System Equipment.

Fermata Energy states on its website that it designs, supplies and operates technology that integrates EVs with buildings and the electricity grid, “turning EVs into valuable storage assets that combat climate change, increase energy resilience, and reduce energy costs.”

The UL 9741 standard covers bidirectional electric vehicle charging equipment that charges electric vehicles from an electric power system and also includes functionality to export power from the electric vehicle to an electric power system.

In September 2020, Virtual Peaker and Fermata Energy announced a partnership to integrate Fermata Energy’s V2G technology with Virtual Peaker’s cloud-based residential energy demand response platform used by utilities across the country.

Studies examine value of V2G

In 2019, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) released a study finding that utilities and ratepayers can derive substantial value from large-scale deployment of EVs equipped to transmit power to the grid.

Sunil Chhaya, the study’s project manager, noted in an EPRI Journal article that EPRI researchers developed models to calculate the value of V2G-capable vehicles for California’s distribution systems.

Chhaya noted that key insights on what could happen were:

  • V2G technology can provide 2–3 times the value of managed charging;
  • V2G technology can provide $671 million in annual grid benefits, based on 3.3 million EVs in 2030 (the medium EV forecast) with half of those EVs V2G-enabled;
  • V2G technology can provide $1 billion in annual grid benefits, given 5 million EVs in 2030 (the aggressive EV forecast and a California goal) with half of those V2G-enabled; and
  • If half of California’s 600,000 EVs today were V2G-enabled, they could provide $39 million in annual net value from peak shaving and ramping support

Canada

More recently, Canadian non-profit organization Plug’n Drive in July 2020 released a report that it said demonstrated the economic value that EV batteries can provide to drivers and to Ontario’s electricity sector.

EV batteries can charge overnight when the demand for electricity is lowest and then supply electricity to the grid during the day when demand is highest. This vehicle to grid interaction “would help further reduce GHG emissions from Ontario’s already low emitting electricity grid, by lowering the demand for natural gas while reducing the need to build additional power plants, potentially reducing electricity prices for everyone,” the non-profit group said in a news release.

The report suggested that there could be as many as 18,555 EV drivers in Ontario participating in mobile storage programs by 2030, which could provide as much as 565 megawatt hours of electricity per day.

According to the report, Ontario’s electricity system could realize a total of $129 million in benefits per year from EV batteries while EV owners could earn as much as $19,000 over the course of their car’s life.

And, in January, the Government of Canada announced an investment to help Nova Scotia Power establish cost-effective energy solutions for an EV smart grid-integrated system.

The pilot project will demonstrate and assess smart charging EV solutions and technologies for the potential to make more efficient use of renewable power sources and reduce the demand on current electricity infrastructure, such as power lines, according to Natural Resources Canada.

“The technologies will enable EVs to store and discharge electricity during peak times to ease pressure on the grid. The project will also recruit up to 200 participants to help inform the demonstration,” Natural Resources Canada said in a news release.

New report offers regulatory roadmap for vehicle-to-grid integration

Seeking to avert an expected EV-driven 10-20 gigawatt increase in peak load across the U.S., a report from the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) released on Jan. 12 outlines how regulators can facilitate vehicle-grid-integration (VGI) development and deployment in their states to help manage EV impacts on the distribution grid.

Intended for regulators, staff, and utilities pursuing VGI deployment and approval, the report describes VGI and why it is important, how regulators are key to unlocking VGI, and the goals of a VGI roadmap and how to develop one.

Drawing upon utility survey data and analysis of VGI-related utility filings, the report’s authors stress that regulators are important to enabling appropriate VGI investments and providing guidance and incentives to utilities to experiment and test use cases, deploy technology solutions, and solve problems related to standards and interoperability.

Key findings include, among other things:

  • Lack of regulatory and stakeholder knowledge about VGI capabilities is a barrier to VGI program development, according to utilities
  • Developing a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis framework that can be applied to transportation electrification could help overcome the challenges of disparate cost-effectiveness tests seen in some utility filing debates
  • Positive customer experiences are essential to the future of VGI. VGI programs must provide easy enrollment, painless participation, and deliver financial benefits in order to succeed.
  • At a minimum, EV charging infrastructure deployed with utility investments should consider a utility’s long-term VGI plan to ensure that devices installed today will support future capabilities required in order to avoid stranded assets or early replacement

APPA resources

The American Public Power Association offers a wide variety of resources related to electric vehicles.

Those resources include the following reports:

APPA also provides an EV activities tracker to its members. The tracker summarizes key efforts undertaken by members including incentives, electric vehicle deployment, charging infrastructure investments, rate design, pilot programs, and more.

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