Driving your electricity home

Could our electric cars act like one big battery to better manage the grid? (Image credit)

With electric car sales on the rise and most major car manufacturers announcing electric vehicles in their pipeline, electric vehicles will become more and more commonplace, and faster than many might predict. But what impacts might this have on our distributed energy future? And how might local energy trading be of benefit?

Most electric vehicles (EVs) are, of course, battery powered. This means when they’re stationary (i.e. parked) these batteries have the potential to put the energy they store back into the grid, say at times when it helps manage energy flows on the network.

Even today, the storage capacity of the batteries in these vehicles is significantly larger than most home electricity storage solutions. For example, the BYD E6 contains an 80kWh battery, which is more than 5 times the capacity of the 14kWh Tesla Powerwall 2.

An electric car is in many respects a big battery on wheels, as demonstrated by the floorpan of the Tesla Model S (Image: Martin Gillet)

A car that has been charged when not in use, say during the day from solar or from cheaper electricity in off-peak periods, could support household energy use during the evening peaks. When orchestrated in aggregate to respond to the demands on and of the grid, this can be quite powerful. (Of course, EVs also have potential to create negative impacts, such as increased network and generation demands for fast charging infrastructure, but that’s a topic for another post perhaps…)

So-called “range anxiety” is likely to suppress people’s willingness to use their car’s battery power for home use in the short term. However, as comfort and familiarity with this concept increases apace with battery capacity and efficiency improvements in the vehicles themselves, it stands to reason that this type of usage will become more commonplace.

This presents some interesting conceptual challenges for the “average punter.” Heck, it’s challenging even to energy geeks! We’re not used to thinking of the energy stored in our cars (currently mostly in the form of fossil fuels like petrol) as a means of powering our house, or providing energy to the grid at parking spots when we’re not using them, let alone considering how we might balance the financial benefit from taking such actions against the value of having a fully charged “tank.” Then we have to consider the fact we no longer have just one electricity provider, but relationships with multiple providers that are geographically-dispersed (e.g. via charging stations—it’s like your local service station becomes your electricity provider).

Peer-to-peer energy exchange is commonly introduced or explained in relatively simplistic terms, as an exchange between a small group of actors . For example, “I buy my neighbour’s excess energy” or “I buy energy from the local solar garden.” However, developments like those in the EV space point to a more dynamic and complex future. Such direct (and manually-established) relationships between “traders” doesn’t really scale to support this greater co-ordination challenge.

For a start, the idea of “peer” no longer refers just to individuals, but to a wider range of devices and participants — batteries in cars, solar generators, vehicle charging stations (and charging peer networks like Everty), energy conservation devices — all coordinating automatically amongst themselves, with related financial transactions reflecting their “decisions.”

The customer proposition is challenging enough, but industry is also grappling with how to manage this transition, cognisant of not driving up the cost of electricity overall due to increased demands on the grid (with the required enhancements).

With 18.8 million cars currently on the road, and just under 1 million new cars being purchased each year, a centrally managed system is unlikely to be fit for this purpose. Decentralised models will be needed to manage the multitude of relationships and coordination between energy providers, the networks, and vehicle owners. This is where innovations such as local energy trading (potentially supported by technologies like blockchain) can provide significant value.

Just another reason why we’re excited to be working on local energy trading at this time — we are just at the beginning with so much opportunity ahead in bringing this distributed energy future to life. Thanks for joining us!

Posted by Grant Young, Chief Experience Officer (CXO) of Nexergy.

Want to take back control over who you buy and sell your energy with? Did you know you can trade your energy amongst your family, friends, neighbours and community? Sign up for the preview release of the Nexergy peer-to-peer energy trading app to find out how…

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