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

9/25/12Follow @XconomyDET

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battery manufacturers. Utility companies, same story. Everyone knew it was out there, but it was somewhere off in the future.”

Gauthier says he took a step back and decided that, rather than waiting, NextEnergy should take the lead on a V2G demonstration project. None of the entities wanted to initiate such a thing on their own, but were very interested if someone else did. Gauthier says Mike Finney, the MEDC’s president and CEO, saw the value of Michigan being a leader in the development of V2G technology. The MEDC committed to providing money through a U.S. Department of Energy grant for a key piece of equipment, called a dual bidirectional charging module.

Chrysler then stepped in to provide four fully electric vans. In total, Gauthier says the scale of the demonstration project is approximately $2 million.

Bob Lee, Chrysler Group vice president and head of engine and electrified propulsion engineering, says that while government regulations are pushing all automakers to work on alternatives like electric cars, “we choose to go the extra mile by also exploring how electric vehicles might mesh with our [energy] infrastructure.”

The technology behind the DBCM came from a micro-grid project NextEnergy had already done for the Defense Department about four years ago. “When the military goes into a country like Afghanistan, they have no idea what the power grid will be like—it may be up or it may be down, but they still need clean electric power,” Gauthier says.

Using the bidirectional module units that vary in size from a large washing machine to that of a shipping container, forward operating bases can plug in various power sources including renewables, the local grid, generators, and electric vehicle batteries into one side of the box. Clean AC power comes out the other end, powering critical needs in communications, munitions, and hospital operations. The DBCM can emulate any grid in the world and can change frequency, voltage, or test how things are affected by fluctuations in the grid.

With the DBCM in place, Gauthier says the next challenge in the demonstration project was determining if V2G technology could be commercialized. “There were a lot of pieces to work through,” he says. “The thing we were trying to find out is, who makes the money? Is there really money in it, how much, and who gets it? And can we use [V2G technology] to grow business?”

NextEnergy’s research into those questions led it to Vancouver, BC-based REV Technologies, which makes energy management systems for electric vehicles. Richard Woodruff, REV Technologies’ vice president of business development, REV had identified a “fantastic opportunity” to aggregate and control energy capacity in electric vehicles, allowing excess power to be sent back to the electric grid.

Woodruff says the problem utilities face is that the grid is always generating too much or not enough power. A network of about a dozen grid operators in North America, called Independent System Operators or ISOs, provide power to local utility companies like DTE Energy in Detroit. This works through something called … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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  • ngmdisqus

    As a battery engineer I still don’t get the case behind this. The financial incentives would have to be pretty good to entice a consumer to discharge their vehicle in the name of the grid and add wear and tear (mileage) to their battery.

  • garyg

    ngmdisqus – You’ve hit the primary question on the head – even if the technology does owrk is there a real business case for the vehicle owner to make any money on the transaction that is why we have named the project – V2G Commerce. There will need to be a balance of V2G value against any impact on the battery, which we are also assessing.