Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Technology: EVs as Energy Storage?

We’re partnering with the U.S. Department of Defense and the State of California on a Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology pilot, testing whether system operators like the California Independent System Operator can reliably tap into energy stored in idle, plugged-in electric vehicle (EV) batteries. If successful, the pilot could be the “proof of concept” that helps establish the viability and scalability of V2G technology.

"EVs have batteries which are capable of two-way electricity flow into and out of the power grid. That allows them to go from simply consuming energy to potentially becoming a fully functioning component of the smart grid."

 — Lisa Cagnolatti, vice president, Business Customer Division, Southern California Edison

EVs & the Electric Grid: Two-Way Flow of Power

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is sponsoring this V2G pilot as part of a $20 million program – the largest V2G demonstration in the world. Los Angeles Air Force Base is the first location for this effort, and four more bases will be added over time.

LAAFB’s fleet includes both electric and hybrid vehicles, including sedans, trucks, and a 12-passenger van. Of the 36 EVs in LAAFB’s fleet, 32 are involved in the pilot.

They will draw power from the grid to charge their batteries, and in response to signals from CAISO, feed energy back into the grid. When CAISO signals indicate an excess of capacity in the grid, the EVs will ramp up charging during off-peak hours. 

Our utility will bill the military base for the retail service to charge the EV batteries. The bill will pass through any payments (or penalties) from CAISO based on the batteries’ performance as an energy-storage resource in the CAISO markets.

The scheduled “go-live” date is Summer 2015. The pilot is scheduled to last a year. During this time, our utility will help prove whether the EV fleets can reduce total costs for the DOD’s non-tactical transportation fleet. Among other objectives, the team will test the EV batteries and software to fully determine the technical requirements for bi-directional functionality.

Many Obstacles Ahead

There are many potential pitfalls in the road to making V2G a reality. For one thing, auto manufacturers need proof that using EV batteries to store energy won't diminish vehicle performance or electric vehicle miles travelled, and that customers would be willing to pay for such features.

Regulations governing the role of utilities and retail customers in CAISO markets are evolving, and will be informed by pilots like these. Plenty of other hurdles await.

Distinguished Panel Discusses V2G

The opportunities and challenges presented by V2G were discussed by a distinguished panel on Nov. 14, 2014, in a media event hosted by LAAFB to unveil their EV fleet. More than 600 people attended, including LAAFB personnel, media, and industry partners.

The panel was hosted by Air Force Assistant Secretary Miranda Ballentine. Panelists included Commissioner Janea Scott of the California Energy Commission; Commissioner Carla Peterman of the California Public Utilities Commission; Southern California Edison’s Lisa Cagnolatti; Major General Robert D. McMurry, Jr., Vice Commander of the Space and Missile Center at LAAFB; and Wade Crowfoot, Deputy Cabinet Secretary and Senior Advisor in the Office of the Governor of the State of California.

VGI Software Test

Separately, our utility has joined several other utilities as well as EV automakers and regional transmission organizations in testing an Open Vehicle-Grid Integration (VGI) Platform software system, a project led by the Electric Power Research Institute.

Broadly, VGI technology is a cloud-based translation system enabling utilities to communicate with vehicles from different EV manufacturers.

To date, each automaker has developed proprietary communications standards unique to their respective vehicles; if successful, VGI technology would provide a standardized utility interface as well as a “universal translator,” that allows utilities to communicate to all EVs – for example, to increase or reduce charging power levels based on grid conditions, or to send demand response signals to the vehicle, or to capture billing information.

The next phase of EPRI’s research into the VGI Platform software system is in development, and is expected to conclude by year-end 2016.

Why Edison: We’re a Pioneer in Electric Transportation

These projects are a natural fit for our utility, with its history of innovation in electric transportation. “Through our nationally recognized EV Technical Center, we have been a pioneer in electric transportation research for more than 20 years,” explained Lisa Cagnolatti, vice president of our utility’s Business Customer Division.

Despite the challenges ahead, several trends are working in V2G’s favor. “There’s a convergence taking place between regulatory policy involving air quality and carbon emissions, and rapidly evolving battery technology,” Cagnolatti says. “Add the fact that customers are opting for greater fuel efficiency and cleaner fuel sources, and the stage is set for V2G.”


California’s Zero Emission Vehicle Goals

Conducting V2G research in California makes sense. The state’s government both promotes renewable energy standards and endorses a Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan that calls for 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on state roads by 2025.