How Electric Vehicles Can Improve Power Grid Performance

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We have heard electric vehicle skeptics say it would be dangerous to have millions of cars charging up on a daily basis, and on the surface, the logic seems sound. That is, until you learn technology can guide charging sessions so grid demand is low when you want to juice an EV battery. In fact, BMW is showing how smart charging applications and recycling of lithium-ion batteries can help deliver better performance in the nation’s power grid.

In a company statement, BMW details how its i ChargeForward Program will request i3 drivers in California to delay charging cars for up to an hour while grid demand is at its highest. Consumers will be notified by PG&E via messaging systems and can choose to delay the charge or continue, depending on their needs for a vehicle in the coming hours. BMW is offering $1,000 for participation in the program and an additional $540 depending on the level of cooperation with requests during peak demand. This segment of the program demonstrates how charging vehicles can be accommodated by the current electric grid.

While smart power management is possible with any electrical device, BMW is showing how repurposed EV batteries also return power to the grid. The second part of the automaker’s latest initiative involves Mini E batteries that have ended their useful life inside vehicles. In the “second life” phase of their existence, these batteries become part of a stationary storage system that can hold and distribute power when the grid needs support.

According to BMW, 70% of the battery’s storage capacity remains at the end of the vehicle’s life, which bodes well for power demand as more electric vehicles enter and exit the market.

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The stationary energy storage unit is the second-largest of its kind and will operate in BMW’s Technology Office in Mountain View using an integrated solar power generation system. Fully renewable energy will fill the capacity remaining in the Mini E batteries and provide power when PG&E needs it. Neither the elements of the storage unit (i.e., the batteries) nor the power the system harnesses from the sun would have been in the grid without the electric vehicles.

This level of usefulness counters another factor plug-in skeptics site, namely the suspected deterioration of lithium-ion batteries. As a Prius that logged over 600,000 miles (and is still going) without a new battery proved, these power sources are far more durable than even EV proponents projected.

Regarding grid capacity and a growing number of electric vehicles needing support from it, research has suggested many millions of plug-in cars could be added without the need for new energy plants. This estimate did not take into account the potential of renewables like solar power that continue to add capacity without producing greenhouse gas emissions.

Would these developments in technology have existed regardless of increasing electric vehicle adoption? Most likely they would as more connected home systems come online. However, the emissions saved by replacing a gasoline vehicle with an EV represent a far bigger upgrade from the clean energy perspective. With more power storage becoming available in old EV batteries, the formula will only become more attractive as registrations mount.

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