City of Newark first in nation using cars to power grid

Electric Car Exterior
Shot of electric car owned by Willett Kempton, UD Professor of Marine Policy. Kempton plugs in the car at his home every night and on campus during the day. When not in service, he says, it stores enough electricity to power 7-8 houses on his block for 30 minutes. Credit: Kathy Atkinson, University of Delaware

This month, the City of Newark, Delaware became the first electric utility in the US to use a car to store and provide power for the local electric grid.

The vehicle, which runs on electricity alone, is specifically designed to store energy and improve grid reliability. University of Delaware researchers helped develop the concept, called Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G). With the City of Newark's approval, the UD team is now conducting V2G testing at two outlets within the City's service territory.

Cities including San Francisco and Austin, TX have seriously considered the idea, but Newark (population: 30,000) is the first to officially put it into action.

B-roll shows electric car, inside and out, plug and electric meter.
University of Delaware Associate Professor of Marine Policy Willett Kempton explained how the technology benefits the grid operator. Currently, there is no energy storage built into the electric grid system, meaning that electricity usage and electricity generation must be simultaneous. As fluctuating renewable sources, such as solar and wind power, become a larger fraction of our electric generation, energy storage will help grid operators smooth power output fluctuations.

"Wind tends to blow stronger at night when the electric load is low," he said. "If electric vehicles charged at night with wind power, the grid operator could use the energy in the batteries, when vehicles aren't needed for driving and are plugged in, to help maintain grid reliability. The vehicle owner would then be paid for providing these energy services at a greater value than what they paid for the electricity."

Those savings add up to thousands per year.

Kempton plugs his car in at his Newark home, and while it sits, he says, it stores enough energy to power 7 to 8 homes on his block for approximately 30 minutes.

Kempton and his team plan to have a fleet of six vehicles by the end of 2009, two at UD and four operated by the state of Delaware. The test fleet will be used to demonstrate multiple V2G vehicles working together and supplying energy as a single power plant. The City of Newark's approval paves the way for larger-scale adoption of V2G electric vehicles nationwide, helping to advance the nation's electric grid infrastructure and reduce oil consumption.

The City of Newark is responsible for ensuring the energy source will not feed power back to the grid when power lines are down. This approval process for V2G electric vehicles is similar to the process used to certify solar photovoltaic systems. It is critical to maintaining the safety of line workers during a power outage.

Sam Sneeringer, the City's Assistant Electric Director, describes the reasoning behind the certification process by saying, "Solar PV systems and V2G vehicles are tested to the same standards and treated the same within the city's approval process because electricity from the car's batteries or from a solar panel is indistinguishable to the electric grid and presents the same potential safety risks to linemen."

The University of Delaware and utility company, Delmarva Power, conducted initial testing of this safety requirement before the vehicle was thoroughly tested to IEEE standards at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

Source: University of Delaware

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Jan 21, 2009
So what happens if you want to take your vehicle while it is a "power source"? Would there enough of a charge left over for your needs? And what about the reduction in lifespan of your batteries, would they pay you for the depreciation as well? (To date, batteries have a limited amount of charge-discharge cycles).

The gov't would have to be involved in financially aiding car owners before most would be interested, I would think.

Jan 21, 2009
Oh and the task of ensuring that the power from the vehicles doesn't feed back onto the grid in cases of downed power lines could easily be solved by having the power company send actual data out over the power-lines, between cycles, which would be sensed by the vehicles, which would only feed their power onto the grid in the presence of this signal.

Jan 22, 2009
Those are the same questions I was wondering. I wouldn't want the power company continuously charging and discharging my expensive lithium/nickel cadmium battery.

Jan 22, 2009
Wow that would suck pretty bad if it killed your batteries just because the power companies don't want to put battery storage systems in their own solar and wind plants. If it is deemed necessary by the government or a power company to keep a storage system, then they better have one besides the end users electric cars. In one way it seems like a nice idea just because it could prevent blackouts and brownouts in areas which have them, but these cars already have the batteries as their weakest, most needing replacement, part.

Apr 13, 2009
And what about the reduction in lifespan of your batteries, would they pay you for the depreciation as well? ... The gov't would have to be involved in financially aiding car owners before most would be interested, I would think.

I hope not. Better to let the market take care of that. People will voluntarily make their car batteries available to the grid if the price is right.

That said, I have a suspicion that that price is a lot higher than advocates think it is. I ran the numbers on in-home lead-acid batteries for a proposed remote microgrid a couple of years ago, and IIRC discovered that cycle degradation adds up to over 50 cents per round-trip kWh.

In my view V2G can only work after a big battery breakthrough.

There's a reason why car manufacturers are mass-producing hybrids, but not plug-in hybrids. The batteries are very expensive and very easy to degrade if not managed very carefully. The Prius carefully maintains its battery charge in the 60-80% range. That's only 20% of the total capacity being used. They do that because going outside that range shortens the life of that very expensive battery. The battery is barely cost-effective when carefully managed in this way. The next battery breakthrough may make plug-in hybrids viable. But taking on the needs of the vehicle AND the grid is asking a lot. Batteries are not there yet.

And whatever battery we are using in the future, utilities would have to pay a premium above the deprecation, because people would be taking on the risk of not having a fully charged battery when they need it.

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