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How electric car batteries could help the grid (and win over drivers)| GuyWhoKnowsThings

Electric cars are more expensive than gasoline models largely because batteries cost a lot. But new technology could turn those expensive devices into an asset, giving homeowners benefits like reduced utility bills, lower lease payments or free parking.

Ford Motor, General Motors, BMW and other automakers are exploring how electric car batteries could be used to store excess renewable energy and help utilities cope with fluctuations in electricity supply and demand. energy. Automakers would make money by acting as middlemen between car owners and energy suppliers.

You could think of millions of cars as one huge energy system that, for the first time, will be connected to another huge energy system, the electrical grid, said Matthias Preindl, an associate professor of power electronics systems at Columbia University.

“We're just at the starting point,” Dr. Preindl said. “They will interact more in the future and can potentially support each other or stress each other out.”

A large flat screen on the wall of the Munich offices of Mobility House, a firm whose investors include Mercedes-Benz and Renault, illustrates one way automakers could turn a profit while helping to stabilize the grid. .

The graphs and numbers on the screen provide a real-time picture of a European energy market where investors and utilities buy and sell electricity. The price changes minute by minute as supply and demand increase or decrease.

Mobility House buys energy when solar and wind energy is abundant and cheap, storing it in electric vehicles that are part of its system and connected throughout Europe. When demand and prices rise, the company resells the electricity. It's a classic play: buy low, sell high.

In the automotive and energy industries, the use of car batteries for grid storage has been talked about for years. As the number of electric cars on the roads increases, those ideas become more tangible.

French automaker Renault is offering Mobility House technology to buyers of its R5 electric compact car, for which the company began taking orders last month. The car, which Renault will begin delivering in December, has a starting price of 29,490 euros (about $32,000) in France.

Buyers who choose to participate will receive a free home charger and sign a contract that will allow Renault to draw power from the vehicles when they are plugged in. R5 owners will be able to control how much energy they return to the grid and when. In exchange, they will get a discount on their electricity bills.

“The more they connect, the more they earn,” said Ziad Dagher, a Renault executive in charge of the program. Renault estimates that participants could save 15 percent on their home energy bills.

Renault, which will offer the technology in France before rolling it out in Germany, Britain and other countries, will share in the profits Mobility House generates from energy trading.

If these services prove successful, the financial case for electric vehicles, an important tool against climate change, will be stronger.

“It would really boost the adoption of electric vehicles,” said Adam Langton, a BMW executive who works on energy issues.

BMW already offers software that allows owners to charge their electric cars when renewable energy is most abundant. That allows the company to obtain carbon credits and pay customers who participate in the program.

A new generation of electric vehicles that BMW will start selling next year, known as Neue Klasse, will have so-called bidirectional capability, meaning the cars will be able to take electricity from the grid and release it, as well as use the energy. to power their engines.

Ford pioneered two-way charging with the F-150 Lightning pickup truck, which can power a house during a blackout. General Motors, Hyundai and Volkswagen also offer or plan to offer cars with two-way charging. As these vehicles become more common, the storage potential could be huge.

It is estimated that by the end of the decade, some 30 million electric vehicles could be on American roads, up from three million today. All of those cars could store as much energy as the daily output of dozens of nuclear plants.

But of course, those millions of cars can also put pressure on the grid, which is already seeing growing demand for electricity from heat pumps and data centers, said Aseem Kapur, chief revenue officer at GM Energy, a unit of General Motors that provides services to electric vehicle owners. By helping to soften demand, “electric vehicles can be an important resource,” he said.

But some problems need to be resolved before that vision can become a reality.

Owners may not be eager to have their cars serve the grid because they worry that constant charging and discharging will wear down their batteries faster.

Some energy experts said the degradation would be negligible, especially if utilities consumed only a small fraction of a battery's capacity. Renault is addressing that problem by offering participants in its energy storage program the same eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty that non-participants receive.

Another challenge is that some U.S. utilities and the state regulators who oversee them prefer to operate centralized networks in which power flows almost entirely in one direction: from power plants to homes and businesses.

To overcome resistance from utility companies, Maryland last month adopted a law requiring them to adapt to two-way charging schemes and provide financial incentives.

There is growing recognition that electric vehicle batteries are valuable investments that most owners will actively use for only a few hours a day.

“We want to unlock the full value of electric vehicle batteries,” said Gregor Hintler, CEO of Mobility House for North America.

If all of New York City's electric cars were used for storage, said Dr. Preindl, the Columbia professor, “those vehicles would be by far the most valuable power plant in New York.”

Consolidated Edison, the utility that serves New York City and some of its suburbs, is exploring how managing charging times and using electric vehicles for storage could help it cope with the rapid growth of self-driving cars. with batteries.

Contrary to popular fears, “the grid is not going to collapse” because of electric cars, said Britt Reichborn-Kjennerud, director of electric mobility at Con Ed. “The biggest concern is that if we don't plan differently for this load we increases so quickly, the network will not be ready in time to support the transition.

Con Ed supplies power to a Bronx warehouse for New York City electric school buseswhere Mobility House software allows more vehicles to use the facilities.

Fleets of electric vehicles owned by companies or governments are a particularly promising form of backup energy storage. Vans or trucks have large batteries and usually have predictable routes and schedules.

Ford Pro, the commercial vehicle division of Ford Motor, has begun offering free chargers to customers that allow them to be turned off during peak electricity demand. Homeowners also save on their electricity bills.

Ford provides the software to manage chargers to adapt to customers' driving needs, and manages the relationship with utility companies. Ford is testing the service in Massachusetts before expanding it to other states. The next step will be a two-way system that allows vehicles to send power to the grid.

“What smart charging can do is reduce costs,” said Jim Gawron, director of charging strategy for Ford's electric vehicle division. “That's been a key barrier for customers.”

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