Vehicle-to-grid: biggest grid disruptor since rooftop solar

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Net-zero electricity grids are critical elements of any net-zero pathway as many industries pursue decarbonization via electrification, but that decarbonization will only happen when sourced from low- or zero-carbon electricity. Efforts to decarbonize the grid are well underway. Utility-scale deployments of solar photovoltaics rapidly accelerated in the 2000s, due in part to subsidies and supportive policies. As solar deployments grew, energy storage followed soon after, seeing dramatic growth throughout the 2010s. The production of zero-carbon electricity and technologies to store it are two important parts of net-zero power grids, but alone, they can’t provide a low-cost pathway to zero-carbon electricity. 

Enter demand management, the concept of managing power consumed behind the meter. While this concept exists today as a way to shed load, the value of behind the meter resources is largely untapped.Demand response programs compensate consumers for decreasing consumption when the grid is congested, but a greater amount of grid flexibility can be unlocked by also enabling behind the meter assets to inject power into the grid. This isn’t an entirely new concept. Virtual power plants have aggregated loads like behind-the-meter batteries to participate in wholesale energy markets, generating revenue for asset owners. While regulations and business model evolution have captured most headlines about demand management, the most valuable asset is finally joining the managed power portfolio: the electric vehicle. 

While today, many utilities have integrated charging into existing demand response projects aimed at shedding load, electric vehicles are poised to take center stage in the demand management conversation for three key reasons:

  1. Automakers have fully bought into bidirectional charging. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging schemes have been stuck in pilot purgatory for the last decade due primarily to a lack of vehicles that support it. The Ford F-150 Lightning released in 2022 was the first vehicle to support bidirectional charging along with a home charger, while Nissan approved its first bidirectional charging station provider Fermata. This marks a significant inflection point as today, all of the largest automaker groups have endorsed bidirectional charging — including notoriously anti-V2G manufacturer Tesla
  2. Grids are reaching the decarbonization speed limit with some regions — notably Germany and California in recent years — experiencing challenges on integrating high levels of solar. Excess solar produced during the day can create negative electricity prices and congest transmission and distribution networks. Flexible loads that can adjust power consumption based on the availability of renewables can enable a deeper penetration of renewables to avoid these effects by varying power consumed or sent to the grid.
  3. V2G can provide a significant amount of storage and capacity. Electric vehicle batteries typically range from 50 kWh to 100 kWh, much more than the single-digit-kWh systems commonly seen in homes. The charging rate of an electric vehicle, which for the aforementioned electric vehicles are roughly 20 kW, is larger than most residential solar and storage systems. As the fleet of electric vehicles on the road continues to grow, the potential capacity unlocked grows with it.

With all this potential in V2G charging, where will we see the first deployments? Watch for backup power to drive most initial deployments in the residential sector, where owners of electric vehicles will find lower costs for home backup via bidirectional charging compared to dedicated backup generators. Additionally, fleets are a promising use-case due to their size and predictability. In our recently published report, Finding the Right Fit for Vehicle-to Grid, we specifically found school buses — due to their highly predictable schedules and low utilization — are the best fit among all vehicle types and use-cases for providing energy services to the grid, spurring several large pilots already.

For utilities, it is critical to use this time when V2G is just emerging to understand how consumers use electric vehicles. Though they hold the potential to enable faster decarbonization and provide reliability to low-carbon power grids, that only happens with an understanding of how much power is available and where. With distributed mobile assets, this will require significant testing and piloting to generate the necessary data to begin incorporating V2G charging in their models and integrated resource plans. 

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