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Make money from your electric vehicle

Mon, 29 Apr 2013

Imagine if your Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi iMiEV started earning its own car payment every month in the form of a rebate check from your local utility.

A small (for now) startup in Palo Alto, Calif. called EV Grid Inc. has been working toward that goal for several years. Now it has a fleet of Mini E electric cars that it has set up to not only charge from the existing electric grid -- in this case managed by local utility PJM -- but also to feed electricity back into the grid when the need arises. That reverse flow is called V2G, or vehicle to grid, and not only could it mean no more blackouts because there will always be a reserve of juice sitting in the battery packs of electric cars, but it also means individual electric vehicle owners will be paid for holding electricity on behalf of the grid operator.

“Basically, our cars got paid for plugging in because they were able and available to respond to the commands of the grid operator,” said EV Grid founder and CEO Tom Gage. “PJM Interconnection controls a large grid region that stretches from the east coast to Illinois. When they needed more juice the cars gave it up. When PJM had too much juice, the cars took it in. We've been working on V2G for years, but the big question was always, 'How much money do you get?' Now we know because we got a check from PJM. For the month of March, with the first 15 cars, we got about $5 per day per car.”

But that's not all. The entire fleet of 15 cars was controlled as a single source of electricity, which means a much higher combined output when needed.

“Just as important, the cars that we provided were aggregated, so that together they could offer -- and deliver -- 100 kW into PJM's market.”

Gage was president of AC Propulsion, the source for a surprising amount of technology that is now used in modern EVs. But Gage and a handful of colleagues left AC Propulsion a couple years ago to form EV Grid because they saw the future of V2G. The Mini Es were all converted by AC Propulsion and had V2G technology built right in.

EV Grid is part of the Grid on Wheels Project, a collaboration operated out of the University of Delaware in Newark, Del., which has been conducting research on V2G since 1997. In 2011, the University and NRG Energy formed a joint venture to explore the commercial potential of V2G. That was about the same time Gage started EV Grid. BMW was interested in the project and offered EV Grid 90 off-lease MINI Es. The MINI E is readily adaptable for V2G because it is equipped with an 18 kW-rated bi-directional charger from AC Propulsion.

“With BMW's help, we set up a service hub in Delaware at AutoPort, Inc. near Wilmington so we could upfit and maintain the cars near the University,” Gage said. “The V2G upfit was pretty simple; we added a high-current J1772 charge connector and the V2G system developed by Professor Willett Kempton and his crew of dedicated students. I'd like to say we just plugged them in and started counting the money, but of course it wasn't that easy. The institutional and transactional issues are as much of a challenge as the technical issues,” Gage said.

Over the next six months EV Grid will provide additional MINI Es to Grid on Wheels, and in collaboration with AutoPort, will introduce the eVan, an all-electric Ford E250 commercial van repowered with a V2G-capable power system. The additional vehicles along with increases in the operating power levels will allow the Grid on Wheels project to bid up to 300 kW of ancillary services into the PJM market in the coming months.

“The path to integrating the EV fleet, as it grows toward its multigigawatt potential with the slowly evolving power grid, is full of barriers, challenges, and technical problems,” Gage said. “As I see it, it is the only path we can take. Today we took a very big step along that path.”

V2G still has a ways to go. Most EVs sold today are not equipped to feed power back into the grid and most grids are not equipped to accept it, let alone pay car owners for it. But the concept of V2G is a sound one and it is coming.

By Mark Vaughn