Detroit Leading U.S. Development of New Vehicle-to-Grid Technology

It’s no secret that auto manufacturers, battery manufacturers, government officials, and champions of renewable energy everywhere are disappointed by the slow rate of consumer adoption when it comes to electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.

But imagine how that might change if consumers could earn money from their electric cars. That concept, known as vehicle-to-grid technology or V2G, involves signing car owners up for a subscription program that pays them cash to sell energy from their vehicle’s battery to utility companies.

One application of this technology was originally developed in Michigan for the Defense Department to power military bases in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And now, a group of notable companies is trying to take the technology even further, in one of the only demonstration projects of its kind in the U.S.

In a formerly desolate part of Detroit near Wayne State University, Chrysler, A123 Systems, REV Technologies, and NextEnergy are working to develop the charging infrastructure that would let cars return power to the grid. If it works, participants say the project could provide the tipping point to mass consumer adoption of electric vehicles.

“If money can change hands to support the sale of electric vehicles and all the industries associated with them, that could definitely influence consumer acceptance and understanding of what the full potential for electric vehicles really is,” says Gary Gauthier, NextEnergy’s director of business development.

NextEnergy sits across the street from TechTown, Wayne State’s business incubator, a few blocks from campus. Created 10 years ago by Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), NextEnergy’s mission is to “accelerate energy security, economic competitiveness, and environmental responsibility through the growth of advanced-energy technologies, businesses, and industries.”

NextEnergy conducts demonstration projects with industry and government partners, touts Michigan’s alternative energy strengths to global markets, invests in seed-stage companies, and works with political leaders to advance alternative energy as an engine for economic growth.

Gauthier’s career at NextEnergy began in 2010, after six years of working with Tier 1 auto suppliers on electric powertrain development. The industry was just beginning to ask whether electric vehicles could provide electricity back to power suppliers, instead of just consuming electricity.

“At the time, OEMs were engaged in getting the vehicles launched,” Gauthier says. “They didn’t want to talk about that—it was too far into the future. Same with the … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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