Utrecht, a largely bicycle-propelled city of 350,000 just south of Amsterdam, has turned into a proving ground for the bidirectional-charging techniques which have the rapt interest of automakers, engineers, city managers, and power utilities around the world. This initiative is occurring within an environment where everyday citizens desire to travel without causing emissions and so are increasingly alert to the worthiness of renewables and energy security.
We wished to change, says Eelco Eerenberg, among Utrecht’s deputy mayors and alderman for development, education, and public health. And section of the change involves extending the citys EV-charging network. You want to predict where we have to build another electric charging station.
So its an excellent moment to take into account where vehicle-to-grid concepts first emerged also to see in Utrecht what lengths theyve come.
Its been 25 years since University of Delaware energy and environmental expert Willett Kempton and Green Mountain College energy economist Steve Letendre outlined what they saw as a dawning interaction between electric-drive vehicles and the electric supply system. This duo, alongside Timothy Lipman of the University of California, Berkeley, and Alec Brooks of AC Propulsion, laid the building blocks for vehicle-to-grid power.
The inverter converts alternating electric current to direct current when charging the automobile and back another way when sending power in to the grid. That is best for the grid. Its yet to be shown clearly why thats best for the driver.
Their initial idea was that garaged vehicles could have a two-way computer-controlled link with the electric grid, that could receive power from the automobile along with provide capacity to it. Kempton and Letendres 1997 paper in the journal Transportation Research describes how battery from EVs in peoples homes would feed the grid throughout a utility emergency or blackout. With on-street chargers, you wouldnt even need the home.
Bidirectional charging uses an inverter concerning the size of a breadbasket, located either in a separate charging box or onboard the automobile. The inverter converts alternating electric current to direct current when charging the automobile and back another way when sending power in to the grid. That is best for the grid. Its yet to be shown clearly why thats best for the driver.
It is a vexing question. Car owners can earn some cash by giving just a little energy back again to the grid at opportune times, or can save well on their power bills, or can indirectly subsidize operation of these cars in this manner. But from enough time Kempton and Letendre outlined the idea, potential users also feared losing profits, through battery deterioration. That’s, would cycling the battery a lot more than necessary prematurely degrade the heart of the automobile? Those lingering questions managed to get unclear whether vehicle-to-grid technologies would ever catch on.
Market watchers have observed a parade of nearly there moments for vehicle-to-grid technology. In the usa in 2011, the University of Delaware and the brand new Jerseybased utility NRG Energy signed a technology-license deal for the initial commercial deployment of vehicle-to-grid technology. Their research partnership ran for four years.
Recently, theres been an uptick in these pilot projects across Europe and america, in addition to in China, Japan, and South Korea. In britain, experiments are now occurring in suburban homes, using outside wall-mounted chargers metered to provide credit to vehicle owners on the utility bills in trade for uploading battery juice during peak hours. Other trials include commercial auto fleets, a couple of utility vans in Copenhagen, two electric school buses in Illinois, and five in NY.
These pilot programs have remained that, thoughpilots. None evolved right into a large-scale system. Which could change soon. Concerns about battery deterioration are abating. This past year, Heta Gandhi and Andrew White of the University of Rochestermodeled vehicle-to-grid economics and found battery-degradation costs to be minimal. Gandhi and White also noted that battery capital costs have been down markedly as time passes, falling from more than US $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to about $140 in 2020.
As vehicle-to-grid technology becomes feasible, Utrecht is among the first places to totally embrace it.
The main element force behind the changes occurring in this windswept Dutch city isn’t a worldwide market trend or the maturity of the engineering solutions. Its having motivated those who are also in the proper place at the proper time.
One is Robin Berg, who started an organization called We Drive Solar from his Utrecht home in 2016. It has evolved right into a car-sharing fleet operator with 225 electric vehicles of varied makes and modelsmostly Renault Zoes, but additionally Tesla Model 3s, Hyundai Konas, and Hyundai Ioniq 5s. Drawing in partners on the way, Berg has plotted methods to bring bidirectional charging to the We Drive Solar fleet. His company now has 27 vehicles with bidirectional capabilities, with another 150 likely to be added in coming months.
In 2019, Willem-Alexander, king of holland, presided on the installing a bidirectional charging station in Utrecht. Here the king [middle] is shown with Robin Berg [left], founder of We Drive Solar, and Jerme Pannaud [right], Renault’s general manager for Belgium, holland, and Luxembourg.Patrick van Katwijk/Getty Images
Amassing that fleet wasnt easy. We Drive Solars two bidirectional Renault Zoes are prototypes, which Berg obtained by partnering with the French automaker. Production Zoes with the capacity of bidirectional charging have yet ahead out. Last April, Hyundai delivered 25 bidirectionally capable long-range Ioniq 5s to We Drive Solar. They are production cars with modified software, which Hyundai is making in small numbers. It plans to introduce the technology as standard within an upcoming model.
We Drive Solars 1,500 subscribers dont need to be worried about battery wear and tearthats the companys problem, if it’s one, and Berg doesnt believe that it is. We never visit the edges of the battery, he says, and therefore the battery is never placed into a charge state high or low enough to shorten its life materially.
We Drive Solar isn’t a free-flowing, pick-up-by-app-and-drop-where-you-want service. Cars have dedicated parking spots. Subscribers reserve their vehicles, pick them up and drop them off in exactly the same place, and drive them wherever they like. On your day I visited Berg, two of his cars were headed so far as the Swiss Alps, and something would Norway. Berg wants his customers to see particular cars (and the associated parking spots) as theirs also to utilize the same vehicle regularly, gaining a feeling of ownership for something they dont own at all.
That Berg took the plunge into EV ride-sharing and, specifically, into power-networking technology like bidirectional charging, isnt surprising. In the first 2000s, he started an area company called LomboXnet, installing line-of-sight Wi-Fi antennas on a church steeple and on the rooftop of 1 of the tallest hotels around. When Internet traffic started to crowd his radio-based network, he rolled out fiber-optic cable.
In 2007, Berg landed a contract to set up rooftop solar at an area school, with the theory to create a microgrid. He now manages 10,000 schoolhouse rooftop panels over the city. An accumulation of power meters lines his hallway closet, plus they monitor solar technology flowing, partly, to his companys electric-car batterieshence the business name, We Drive Solar.
Berg didn’t find out about bidirectional charging through Kempton or the other early champions of vehicle-to-grid technology. He found out about it due to the Fukushima nuclear-plant disaster about ten years ago. He owned a Nissan Leaf at that time, and he find out about how these cars supplied emergency power in the Fukushima region.
Okay, that is interesting technology, Berg recalls thinking. Will there be ways to scale it up here? Nissan decided to ship him a bidirectional charger, and Berg called Utrecht city planners, saying he wished to use a cable for this. That resulted in more contacts, including at the business managing the neighborhood low-voltage grid, Stedin. After he installed his charger, Stedin engineers wished to know why his meter sometimes ran backward. Later, Irene ten Dam at the Utrecht regional development agency got wind of his experiment and was intrigued, becoming an advocate for bidirectional charging.
Berg and individuals working for the town who liked what he was doing attracted further partners, including Stedin, software developers, and a charging-station manufacturer. By 2019, Willem-Alexander, king of holland, was presiding on the installing a bidirectional charging station in Utrecht. With both city and the grid operator, the best thing is, they’re always researching to scale up, Berg says. They dont would like to execute a project and execute a report onto it, he says. They actually want to get to the next phase.
Those next steps are occurring at a quickening pace. Utrecht now has 800 bidirectional chargers designed and manufactured by the Dutch engineering firm NieuweWeme. The town will soon need a lot more.
The amount of charging stations in Utrecht has risen sharply in the last decade.
Folks are buying a lot more electric cars, says Eerenberg, the alderman. City officials noticed a surge such purchases recently, and then hear complaints from Utrechters they then had to undergo an extended application process to get a charger installed where they might utilize it. Eerenberg, some type of computer scientist by training, continues to be attempting to unwind these knots. He realizes that the town must go faster if it’s to meet up the Dutch governments mandate for several new cars to be zero-emission in eight years.
The quantity of energy used to charge EVs in Utrecht has skyrocketed recently.
Although similar mandates to place more zero-emission vehicles on the highway in NY and California failed during the past, the pressure for vehicle electrification is higher now. And Utrecht city officials need to get before demand for greener transportation solutions. It is a city that just built a central underground parking garage for 12,500 bicycles and spent years digging up a freeway that ran through the biggest market of town, replacing it with a canal in the name of climate and healthy urban living.
A driving force in shaping these changes is Matthijs Kok, the citys energy-transition manager. He took me on a tourby bicycle, naturallyof Utrechts new green infrastructure, pointing for some recent additions, such as a stationary battery made to store solar technology from the countless panels slated for installation at an area public housing development.
This map of Utrecht shows the citys EV-charging infrastructure. Orange dots will be the locations of existing charging stations; red dots denote charging stations under development. Green dots are possible sites for future charging stations.
For this reason we all take action, Kok says, stepping from his propped-up bike and pointing to a brick shed that houses a 400-kilowatt transformer. These transformers will be the final link in the chain that runs from the power-generating plant to high-tension wires to medium-voltage substations to low-voltage transformers to peoples kitchens.
You can find a large number of these transformers in an average city. But if way too many electric cars in a single area need charging, transformers such as this can simply become overloaded. Bidirectional charging promises to help ease such problems.
Kok works together with others in city government to compile data and create maps, dividing the town into neighborhoods. Each is annotated with data on population, forms of households, vehicles, along with other data. As well as a contracted data-science group, sufficient reason for input from ordinary citizens, they developed a policy-driven algorithm to greatly help select the best locations for new charging stations. The town also included incentives for deploying bidirectional chargers in its 10-year contracts with vehicle charge-station operators. So, in these chargers went.
Experts expect bidirectional charging to work particularly well for vehicles which are section of a fleet whose movements are predictable. In such instances, an operator can readily program when to charge and discharge a cars battery.
We Drive Solar earns credit by sending battery from its fleet to the neighborhood grid during times of peak demand and charges the cars batteries back up during off-peak hours. If it can that well, drivers dont lose any range they could need if they grab their cars. And these daily energy trades help with keeping prices down for subscribers.
Encouraging car-sharing schemes like We Drive Solar attracts Utrecht officials due to the have a problem with parkinga chronic ailment common to many growing cities. An enormous construction site close to the Utrecht city center will soon add 10,000 new apartments. Additional housing is welcome, but 10,000 additional cars wouldn’t normally be. Planners want the ratio to become more like one car for each 10 householdsand the quantity of dedicated public parking in the brand new neighborhoods will reflect that goal.
A few of the cars available from We Drive Solar, including these Hyundai Ioniq 5s, can handle bidirectional charging.We Drive Solar
Projections for the large-scale electrification of transportation in Europe are daunting. In accordance with a Eurelectric/Deloitte report, there may be 50 million to 70 million electric vehicles in Europe by 2030, requiring several million new charging points, bidirectional or elsewhere. Power-distribution grids will require hundreds of vast amounts of euros in investment to aid these new stations.
The morning before Eerenberg sat down with me at city hall to describe Utrechts charge-station planning algorithm, war broke out in Ukraine. Energy prices now strain many households to the breaking point. Gasoline has already reached $6 a gallon (or even more) occasionally in the usa. In Germany in mid-June, the driver of a modest VW Golf had to cover about 100 (a lot more than $100) to fill the tank. In the U.K., bills shot up normally by a lot more than 50 percent on the initial of April.
The war upended energy policies over the European continent and all over the world, focusing peoples attention on energy independence and security, and reinforcing policies already in motion, like the creation of emission-free zones in city centers and the replacement of conventional cars with electric ones. How far better produce the needed changes is frequently unclear, but modeling might help.
Nico Brinkel, who’s focusing on his doctorate in Wilfried van Sarks photovoltaics-integration lab at Utrecht University, focuses his models at the neighborhood level. In his calculations, he figures that, around Utrecht, low-voltage grid reinforcements cost about 17,000 per transformer and about 100,000 per kilometer of replacement cable. If we have been moving to a completely electrical system, if were adding lots of wind energy, plenty of solar, lots of heat pumps, lots of electric vehicles, his voice trails off. Our grid had not been created for this.
However the electrical infrastructure will need to continue. Among Brinkels studies shows that in case a good fraction of the EV chargers are bidirectional, such costs could possibly be disseminate in a far more manageable way. Ideally, I believe it will be best if all of the brand new chargers were bidirectional, he says. The excess costs aren’t that high.
Berg doesnt need convincing. He’s got been considering what bidirectional charging supplies the whole of holland. He figures that 1.5 million EVs with bidirectional capabilitiesin a country of 8 million carswould balance the national grid. You can do anything with renewable energy then, he says.
Since his country is you start with just a huge selection of cars with the capacity of bidirectional charging, 1.5 million is really a big number. But 1 day, the Dutch could actually make it happen.
This short article appears in the August 2022 print issue as A Road Test for Vehicle-to-Grid Tech.