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A swarm of EVs for the grid

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Renewables International

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German firms have come together to test whether electric vehicles might be able to help stablize the grid when connected to it. The results are promising.

Not even one out of a thousand cars in Germany is electric. The figure is 0.07 percent. What’s lacking is a fringe benefit. In Japan, where sales of e-cars is four times higher, “people buy electric vehicles as backup power generators,” says Detlef Beister, who develops new business models at SMA.

“We don’t have this problem to the same extent in Germany.”  Now, German power provider Lichtblick is working with SMA, Volkswagen, and Fraunhofer IWES to test new business models for electric cars.

Bidirectional charging 

Inverter maker SMA made a wall-mounted charging station for bidirectional charging. The unit is based on Sunny Tripower and has a capacity of 10.5 kW. “The goal was not to see how much power we can connect to the grid, but to see how customers react when their cars are connected to the power market,” Beister says.

Lichtblick then simulated earnings from the ancillary service market. Forty households in Berlin with EVs took part. In the field test, every participant decided how much battery capacity would be made available. Lichtblick bundled the small capacities to create a virtual power plant for ancillary services.

The potential business plan is that every car owner, regardless of their storage capacity, would receive a monthly “swarm bonus” for this service. It’s sounds easy, but in practice it’s complicated. Car owners have to be plugged into the grid when they take part. “The service provider has to offer a reliable volume from a pool of thousands of vehicles based on forecasts and statistics,” explains Gero Lücking, head of Lichtblick.

“The project revealed certain driving and charging patterns, so that we can offer this reliable capacity thanks to information our customers provide via an app.” “We make sure that the battery capacity promised is available along with a security margin that customers demand when they want to take off again,” Lücking says. “After all, we don’t want such business models to restrict individual mobility at any point.”

Source: Renewables International. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • Ian

    Integrating electric vehicles to the power grid means different things to different countries. The German approach seems very complicated. If EV batteries become so cheap that EV becomes an affordable option, then behind the meter battery storage will become just as ubiquitous. Why bother ekeing the last bit of storage out of a EV’s battery when you can just install more stationary storage. EV have a weight problem and require a lot of battery capacity to travel at competitive speeds and distances to ICE, the batteries would tend to be worked hard in terms of DOD and speed of charging. Would working them even harder with frequent charging and discharging for the sake of grid stability be worth while? In Australia, punitive tariffs are encouraging people to go off-grid. EV’s can help achieve this. A solar powered house with small battery storage can supply daily autonomy, and the EV can provide large backup power when needed in times of bad weather. The EV can also be used as a proxy to a grid connection without the connection fees by charging from a public charging point and then driving home to supply power to the home. There does not need to be a massive adoption of EV’s and off-grid systems to affect change from the grid operators, only the threat of this becoming more popular and the grid less relevant. In addition the low behind the meter cost of solar would encourage larger solar arrays to charge the EV at home in the day.