Your Car of the Future Will Power the Grid

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Your Car of the Future Will Power the Grid

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Your Car of the Future Will Power the Grid via @GM #earthweek

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Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 12:30pm

CAMPAIGN: GM Greener Vehicles


Today’s guest post in the GMBeyondNow Earth Week series is written by Jim Motovalli, environmental writer and speaker. In his piece, Mr. Motovalli discusses the concept of using battery packs in plug-in electric cars to provide power to the grid. It’s a unique concept, and one that aligns with our objectives.

According to Pike Research, almost 200,000 plug-in electric cars and trucks equipped with vehicle-to-building (V2B) technology will be sold through 2020. The company said that from 2012 to 2020, investment in that space will total $279 million.

That’s a lot of money. V2B and its vehicle-to-grid (V2G) cousin show a lot of promise, even if not a lot of commercial application yet. Some years ago, in California, I watched an electric meter spin back as the battery pack in a Google-sponsored Toyota Prius returned power to the grid. The company teamed up on V2G with Pacific Gas & Electric, which remains interested in it.

Another pioneer in the space is Professor Willett Kempton at the University of Delaware, who’s been working on V2G since 1997. In 2008, working with the regional transmission organization PJM Interconnection (which manages wholesale electricity in 13 states), he launched a pilot program with seven electric cars getting monthly payments for helping stabilize the grid.

And let’s not forget Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), who’s been championing V2G since the early 1990s, before it was technically feasible. According to RMI’s Smart Garage project, “The real benefit of electric vehicles…is that they bring a new level of stability and control to the grid—including giving power back when it’s needed most (in blackouts or at times of peak demand). By some estimates, a battery-electric vehicle, with about 40 kilowatt-hours of usable energy, could power an entire residential block for over an hour if necessary.”

The real value of V2G is in aggregating a bunch of electric cars, and coordinating their connection to the grid. If utilities can be assured of the collective power from, say, 100 plug-in hybrids or battery electrics, it’s a powerful tool to stabilize the grid in times of peak demand.

John Gartner, research director at Pike, thinks that V2B has advantages over V2G because it doesn’t require coordinating multiple vehicles, or incentives for grid operators to develop a framework for paying car owners. “Even a single plug-in electric vehicle can be of value to a commercial or residential building,” he said.

It’s a nice vision. When plugged in at home, your electric car will not only recharge, it will also help stabilize the grid and provide a small stipend, too. It’s definitely part of the net zero home I see as the housing of the future. For utilities, it means not having to bring polluting standby plants on line, and reducing generating costs. We’re not anywhere near getting the technology into widespread use, but what’s not to like about the concept?

JIM MOTAVALLI is a contributor to the New York Times, Car Talk at NPR,, Mother Nature Network and others. He is the author most recently of High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug in the Auto Industry.


Keywords: Alternative Energy | Earth Week | GM | GMBeyondNow | Jim Motovalli | Pike Research | alternative fuel | electric vehicles | environment | vehicle-to-grid technology

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