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Time to Discharge Electric Cars

The city of Utrecht is determined to make the transition to clean energy as it aims to become the first bidirectionally powered region in the world. The ambition relies on the batteries of electric cars and their chargers to power homes and businesses in a region.

While most electric cars charge one way, some cars are integrated with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology that allows them to discharge, or in other words, charge bidirectionally. Why would it be useful for electric vehicles (EVs) to feed electricity back to their origin? To save money and energy. In essence, car batteries become storage systems for electricity, and when needed, the energy is fed back to the power grid and used for other purposes. V2G solutions are becoming increasingly relevant for achieving our goal of net zero emissions. The technology effectively takes advantage of EV idle time and aids the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The energy sector, which includes electricity, heating, and transport, is by far the biggest contributor to global greenhouse emissions. The automobile industry is already undergoing decarbonization by replacing fossil fuel-burning cars with EVs or hydrogen-cell fuel-operated vehicles. If all road transport (cars, trucks, motorcycles, and buses) were to be electrified, global emissions would reduce by 12 percent. The goal looks more and more feasible as we witness the electrification of the automobile industry; more and more companies pledge to have a fully electric portfolio in a decade. According to UBS, all new cars on the market will be electric in a mere twenty years. Seeing such acceleration in the industry, it becomes crucial for the energy sector to keep up and provide electricity ethically and sustainably. V2G charging may provide the solution.

Benefits of V2G

As more and more EVs hit the road, the power grid will need to provide more electricity to stabilize the grid. Energy demand peaks are likely to cause congestion and overload the grid, which will be a major problem for the future 40 million EV owners in Europe. The first benefit of V2G charging is the potential to prevent overloading of the grid during demand spikes. Plugged-in stationary cars can provide power to where it is needed the most if an owner so wishes. Electric cars will become analogous to ‘batteries on wheels’ and balance the grid during peak demand when shortages are likely. Besides stabilizing the grid, V2G solutions would provide an even smoother energy transition by allowing higher utilization of renewable energy. Unlike the burning of coal, the sun and the wind cannot produce energy at a constant rate. Simply put, the grid cannot balance purely renewable energy yet. EVs can fill in the gap by charging when renewable energy is available and discharging it when solar or wind generation is absent.

Utilizing the excess capacity of millions of car batteries offers a much cheaper solution for energy management than building storage systems from scratch. Not only that, but it provides more energy independence and security as the war in Ukraine disrupts energy policies throughout the continent. Bidirectional charging could ease the strain on energy and reduce some reliance on Russian energy. Feeding electricity back to the grid can also provide personal benefits for EV owners, generating revenue from their exported energy. Energy companies will have an incentive to scale up and encourage consumers to take part in V2G charging.

His Majesty King Willem-Alexander (center) with R. Berg (left), director of We Drive Solar, and J. Pannaud (right), Renault General Manager Benelux, standing in front of the Renault ZOE with bidirectional technology

Utrecht guides the way for a new standard

In 2019, His Majesty King Willem-Alexander unveiled the ‘battery on wheels’, bidirectional ecosystem in Utrecht, developed by We Drive Solar and partnered with Renault. Jerôme Pannaud, Renault General Manager Benelux, was proud to present the V2G-compatible Renault ZOE EV in Utrecht, the “living lab for Renault”. He says, “For us, electric cars are much more than just cars. They have a battery that plays an important role in the energy domain.”

Utrecht is the first city to apply V2G charging on a large scale, and its city officials and various companies are committed to greener transportation solutions. With the world’s longest solar panel bike path and a large car park covered in solar panels, the government hopes to utilize that energy efficiently through bidirectional chargers. There are currently around a thousand charging stations in the city that support bidirectional charging including the world’s largest bidirectional charging plaza made possible by We Drive Solar and its partners.

We Drive Solar is a car-sharing company that provides a fleet of cars run on solar energy. The lineup includes 225 EVs consisting of Renault ZOEs, Tesla Model 3s, Hyundai Konas, and Hyundai IONIQ 5s. The company has made many innovative developments alongside Utrecht officials, automakers, and energy providers, easing transport, parking, and energy issues in the city.

In April 2022, Hyundai partnered with We Drive Solar to deploy 25 IONIQ 5s equipped with V2G technology, which will have the possibility of powering 2,530 homes in the region of Cartesius, Utrecht. So far, only a few automakers provide vehicles with V2G capabilities, but that number is likely to increase with more awareness from both the automobile and the energy sectors. We Drive Solar and Utrecht are taking an important step in upscaling and providing testing grounds for bidirectional charging. According to Robin Berg, the director of We Drive Solar, 1.5 million EVs with V2G capabilities (in a country with 8 million cars) will bring balance to the national grid; “you could do anything with renewable energy then”.

Utrecht demonstrates the possibilities of bidirectional charging becoming mainstream, and how EVs can become an active provider in our smart energy network in the future. Scaling up V2G charging technologies could be a driving force to achieving our net-zero ambitions in terms of mobility and renewable-produced energy. However, the road ahead is still long and requires close partnerships between city managers, engineers, automakers, and companies that value renewables and energy security.


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