Can electric vehicles help power the grid? This experience can find the answer.

By Sean Tucker

Utilities need to find ways to store energy from renewable sources, and electric cars can help.

Electric vehicle advocates dream of a day when millions of electric cars will help safeguard America’s energy grids. A North Carolina energy company is looking for volunteers to experiment with the idea now.

Duke Energy (DUK) has asked state regulators for permission to launch a pilot program that “will reduce vehicle rental payments for program participants who rent an eligible electric vehicle, including Ford (F) trucks F-150 Lightning. In exchange, customers will allow their electric vehicles to feed power back into the grid, which helps balance it during peak demand.”

Electric vehicles that give and take electricity

The Lightning is one of many new electric vehicles capable of supplying energy and using it.

Buyers can also find so-called two-way charging on the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and some newer Lucid (LCID) Air models. The GMC Hummer is capable of limited two-way charging to run power tools in the field, but does not provide enough energy to power a home like the Lightning does.

Duke Energy’s press release does not specify which other vehicles may be eligible.

The power company is looking for 100 owners of two-way charging electric vehicles who will let the utility draw electricity from their vehicles up to three times a month during peak summer and winter periods and once a month during peak hours. In exchange, Duke will reduce their payments by $25 per month.

The program will not be launched until next year. Duke Energy would need to install equipment in homeowners’ homes that would allow trucks to feed into the power grid. Owners should also install certain software provided by car manufacturers.

The energy industry needs batteries

As electric utilities introduce more renewable energy sources into power grids, they face a new problem: some days, renewables produce more energy than the grid can use. But utilities have few ways to store it.

Other days, users demand more power than the grid can provide. In extreme circumstances, this can lead to power outages. Such days of heavy use are becoming more common as heat waves from climate change increase the demand for air conditioning.

Although the term “the grid” has come into popular usage, America actually has five distinct energy grids. They are only nominally interconnected, with little ability to transmit power from one to the other.

This creates missed opportunities. Arizona, in the height of summer, can generate enough electricity from solar power to power the entire country. But he can’t transmit that energy to New York where it’s needed or store it for the winter.

Traditional energy sources like coal can ramp up or down more easily than wind and solar energy sources. But climate change has made the continued use of fossil fuels unsustainable.

Electric utilities need to find ways to store energy from renewable sources on days when it’s easy to produce for when it’s not.

Some regions have experimented with large municipal batteries. But they have their own engineering problems, from huge costs to increased fire risk.

Discover: What will electric vehicle charging look like in the future?

Soon Americans may own 100 million rolling batteries

Electric vehicles offer a possible solution. The US transportation system is gradually going electric. Many automakers have pledged to sell mostly electric ranges within a decade. California, Massachusetts and Washington have banned the sale of new gas-powered cars starting in 2035

See: What California’s gas-powered car ban could mean for you, even if you don’t live there

If even a fraction of the more than 100 million cars registered in the United States are battery-powered, the country will have access to a huge rolling energy storage system. Cars could draw power from the grid on some days and return it on other days, helping to balance the load.

The same technology that allows cars to feed electricity back into the grids could enable distributed power generation. In its press release announcing the Lightning program, Duke Energy notes that the same systems could enable home solar panels to add power to the grid.

Duke Energy’s proposal for Lightning owners is a small-scale experiment for now.

Also see: 17 States Plan to Adopt California’s Electric Car Mandate

But energy companies have been experimenting for several years with the concept of vehicles as battery storage. Dominion Energy has helped some school districts in its service area convert to electric buses. In exchange, the school districts let Dominion use the bus batteries as energy storage during the summer when not in use.

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09-20-22 0501ET

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