Home / Opinion / Columns /  Grid integration with EVs could prevent power failures

The electricity we use today is, for the most part, generated by power plants connected to our homes and offices through a network of transmission and distribution lines. In order to ensure that the lights always come on when we turn the switch, well functioning power grids have to be designed to ensure that, regardless of fluctuations in supply and demand, we always have electricity when we need it. One way to ensure this would have been to build energy storage facilities that operate as a buffer, storing excess energy so that it could be released when supply is unable to meet demand. However, instead of creating these buffers, our modern grid was crudely designed to simply ensure that the electricity generated always exceeds the total demand for power.

Apart from its obvious inefficiency (evidenced by the load shedding and blackouts we still have to endure every summer), this lack of storage is proving to be a serious impediment to our plans to transition away from fossil fuels. While renewable energy is practically infinite, it is also notoriously fickle. When the sky is overcast, it is next to impossible to be able to generate sufficient solar energy, just as it is impossible to get wind turbines to move on a still day. If renewable energy is ever going to be as reliable as conventional energy, we will need to find a way to store energy when we can get it so we can use it during periods that we can’t.

Thankfully, a solution has presented itself from a somewhat unexpected direction.

In 2015, Mobility House used an electric vehicle (EV) as an additional energy source to power coffee-makers in their office. While this might, on the face of it, seem like a frivolous experiment, it proved that the battery of an EV could be used to power conventional electrical appliances. Dare we imagine it can be used as a buffer against the inconsistency of renewable energy?

Most EVs have batteries so large they can store much more energy than they need for a normal commute. Not only can these vehicles ferry you to and from work, they will have more than enough energy to spare to support the 15-20kwh that an average household uses in a day. In order to deploy this solution at home, all you need to do to is install bidirectional charging infrastructure so that your EV can charge itself when electricity is available and serve as a source of power to keep your household appliances running when it is not.

As interesting as all this is in the context of an individual home, where it really starts to get exciting is when we try and imagine how EV batteries might be used as a decentralized power storage system for the entire country. In 2018, Mobility House obtained regulatory approval for a technology solution that integrated an EV directly with Germany’s electricity grid as a control power plant. Once connected, the infrastructure could take excess energy from the grid and store it in the battery bank of the EV or, as required, extract it from the EV and supply it back to the grid to stabilize against fluctuations. This is what is known as a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) solution and is exactly what we need to operationalize a decentralized power system in India. And, thanks to three recent policy announcements, we appear to be perfectly positioned to rapidly implement it.

Let’s start with EVs. India has set itself an ambitious target of achieving 100% EV sales by 2030 and if the government is able to deliver on this promise, there will, soon, be an EV in every home. We can’t manufacture EVs at this scale without batteries, which is where the government’s vision of building Tesla- style giga-factories comes in. Once these giant manufacturing plants are up and running, EV manufacturers will have all the batteries they need to achieve the 2030 target. Even though we might not have thought of it while coming up with these policies, we have still enabled the creation of a massive distributed energy storage system that we can deploy to achieve the third and final policy objective in the trifecta: the augmentation of renewable energy capacity by 100 gigawatts within the next decade.

For all this work, we need technical and regulatory frameworks that allow EVs, producers of renewable energy and the electricity grid to seamlessly interact with one another, so that the decentralized storage capacity of our soon-to-be-realised EV future can be dynamically utilized by the grid. If done well, EV owners would be able to offer the excess capacity of their batteries as buffer storage to the grid, allowing their cars to earn them income while sitting idle. It will reduce capital costs because, by using distributed storage we will no longer need to invest in building physical infrastructure for buffer storage. Finally, it will make renewable energy projects more attractive, as the ability to buffer energy will allow them to approximate our experience with conventional energy sources more closely.

V2G solutions could be the future of decentralized power in India. Since it facilitates energy storage in a radically decentralized fashion—in the homes of individual consumers—it serves as a natural hedge against catastrophic grid failure. It could also make EVs more cost effective by allowing owners to rent batteries (which still account for around 30% of the vehicle’s cost) from energy companies that could, in exchange, use it to stabilize the power grid.

Our cars have always been mobility assets, but, with vehicle-to-grid technology, we could have them double up as an energy assets as well.

Rahul Matthan is a partner at Trilegal and also has a podcast by the name Ex Machina. His Twitter handle is @matthan

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