Promise of powering homes and grid from EV batteries becoming a reality
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Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G)
Mar 25, 2024
John Lorinc

The combination of more EVs equipped with bidirectional charging, growth of equipment makers like Montreal’s dcbel Energy, and some forward-thinking utilities is making it happen

Montreal-based dcbel Energy is making early inroads to vehicle-to-home and vehicle-to-grid charging with its “home energy station,” called ara. Photo: dcbel

The combination of more EVs equipped with bidirectional charging, growth of equipment makers like Montreal’s dcbel Energy, and some forward-thinking utilities is making it happen

It happens every winter. Heavy snow and high winds bring down power lines and thousands of households in the storm’s path lose electricity.

This was the story for many Quebec residents earlier this year. For some, however, this time was different: numerous owners of Ford F-150 Lightning pickup trucks in the province discovered they could ride out the blackout by reversing the electricity flow on their vehicles to power their homes.

“Many Ford F-150 Lightning owners have discovered that this was a perk that they were not aware of,” says Daniel Breton, president and CEO of Electric Mobility Canada. During the recent outage, he adds, “a friend of mine who lives in Trois Rivières did not have electricity for like eight hours. So he took his F-150 Lightning and he powered the home.”

From prospect to reality

The idea that people, companies and communities can draw power from EV batteries during power failures, or simply as a way to hedge against high electricity rates during costly peak periods of demand, isn’t new. But what this Quebec example shows is that, as the technical issues work out and the market penetration of EVs and use cases expands, this application — along with the more complex option of feeding power from EV batteries back into the grid — has begun to shift from a prospect to a reality.

That said, it’s still early days. Only a handful of EVs currently have bi-directional vehicle-to-home (V2H) charging capabilities. Besides the F-150 Lightning, these include the Nissan Leaf, all Hyundai, Kia and Genesis EVs built on Hyundai’s E-GMP platform, and Volkswagen’s ID.4 in some markets.

But more are coming. Starting in 2026, General Motors says all of its EVs built on the Ultium battery platform will have V2H capability. Tesla also says it’s going to adopt bi-directional charging in its vehicles starting in 2025. Volvo and Polestar have also committed to it for future vehicles.

Vehicle and home integration

The list of vehicles with simpler bi-directional vehicle-to-load (V2L) capabilities, which enables users to plug in and power individual appliances, is a bit longer. But running a full V2H connection is more complicated than V2L. It requires separate inverter equipment to convert DC power from the vehicle to the AC system that powers the home.

The latter area is where Montreal-based dcbel Energy is making early inroads and a big splash. Its “home energy station,” called ara, combines charging and inverting functions into a single unit. It can manage power distribution from solar panels and other energy storage devices and direct energy from the EV battery out to the grid (vehicle-to-grid, or V2G). Thus far, ara is only compatible with Nissan’s Leaf, but dcbel is in the process of adapting it for other EVs.

In January, dcbel won a US$53.5-million grant from the California Energy Commission to subsidize the installation of up to 12,000 ara in low-income homes in the state.

For the seven-year-old firm, which last summer closed a US$50-million round of funding, California is its first major market, thanks to the state’s most climate-focused traits: a strong market for EVs and a regulatory requirement that new homes have both solar panels and energy storage devices to provide back-up power in the event of increasingly prevalent outages.

According to dcbel CEO Marc-André Forget, California builds about 100,000 new homes each year, all of which require some form of storage. Last year, dcbel completed a demonstration project in San Bruno to certify its technology. Now it has teamed up with half a dozen builders to distribute ara.

“This is a product that has been built from the ground up, with a user experience in mind,” says Forget. “It’s easy to sell, easy to install. For homebuilders, it’s a game changer.”

Regulatory, grid concerns

In Canada, while the rollout of V2H applications is bound to increase as more EVs with bi-directional charging capabilities come to market, V2G is still being held back by regulatory bottlenecks and concerns about grid preparedness.

According to Breton, utilities can absorb increased electricity demand from EVs at present. However, future growth in electrification in transportation will mean steadily larger loads. At this point, system operators haven’t yet come up with a way to reliably assess how much peak demand will be offset by V2H or V2G power.

“We are in the early stages from a regulatory point of view,” Breton says. “This is discussions that we are having with different utilities and different regulators to see what can be done moving forward.”

Across the country, various pilot projects are underway, using a mix of electric cars, buses and trucks, that will help move those conversations along. One of the more interesting, in British Columbia, involves a partnership between BC Hydro, Lion Electric, PowerTech Labs, BorgWarner, Fermata Energy and Coast-to-Coast Experiences (CTCE).

Billed as creating “the first bidirectional EV charging hub in B.C.,” the project is meant to test the potential of tethering electric bus or truck fleets to local distribution grids to provide supplementary power during high demand periods.

Potential new revenue streams

According to Robert Safrata, CEO of CTCE as well as Novex Delivery Solutions, the questions they are tackling are both economic and technical.

From a heavy-duty vehicle fleet operator’s perspective, he says the challenge in converting to electric is cost. The goal of the pilot is to determine if fleet operators like CTCE can offset some of those costs by using V2G to sell battery power to local or regional utilities during high demand windows and buy it back during off-peak times.

The first leg of the pilot, conducted last December, involved a single Lion Electric bus, and sought to test the viability of the bidirectional charging, the quality of the current and safety issues. The next steps include expanding the number of vehicles in the pilot, certification and identifying the appropriate sub-stations that can receive the power coming from the feed from their batteries.

The project, Safrata says, dovetails with BC Hydro’s battery storage plans, which call for procuring 500MW of stationary storage over the next few years. The use of EV fleets serves as a means of augmenting that investment.

“We want to move to scale quickly and be able to supply the grid when they need it, make it more resilient and at the same time significantly reduce the tailpipe emissions,” he says.

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