In today’s Finshots, we offer a simplified primer on vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology — a way in which an electric vehicle (EV) could potentially help countries achieve renewable energy goals.

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The Story

If you own an EV, you know it has a battery that stores the energy needed for it to run. You connect it to a power supply, let it juice up, and when you need to run it, the EV taps into the battery’s energy. If you think about it, that actually makes EVs an energy storage system on wheels!

So, here’s an idea — what if you could actually use that stored energy to charge other stuff? Maybe you’re suffering from a power cut and you want to run the lights and fans at your home. Could you use the EV to reverse charge your home? You know, kind of like how your big iPhone can actually charge your smaller Apple watch or Airpods!

Well, it looks like there are a lot of people who have this idea. Just type “can you use your electric car…” on your Google search bar and check what’s the first autocomplete suggestion. It’s probably going to be “can you use your electric car to power your home”.  After all, an EV stores nearly 70 kilowatt hours (kWh) worth of electricity in its battery. That’s enough to power a home for over 2 days. So you can see why people have this question.

Now here’s the thing. This isn’t some fiction or fantasy. This is fast becoming a reality. EV’s are now rolling off the factory floor equipped with a bidirectional charging feature. Like the EV version of Ford’s iconic pickup truck — the F150. People in the US are using this car to actually power their homes during electricity grid failures.

It’s crazy!

But let’s take this already crazy reality and imagine a crazier one, okay?

Imagine this happening on a larger scale. Imagine if, instead of just being connected to your home, millions of EVs across households could actually be plugged into the main electricity grid? We’re talking about the electricity grid that powers your entire region or country. You see, EVs spend about 80-90% of their lifetimes parked in an idle state. The stored power is simply waiting to be used. So if you could simply connect EVs to the main grid through vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, it could be a gamechanger for renewable energy efforts.

And that's kind of what the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), an organisation that advises the government on matters related to electricity systems, wants for India.

See, India’s power supply is still heavily fueled by burning coal — nearly 80% in some months. And our appetite for power is only growing by leaps and bounds as the economy grows. But we also can’t keep burning coal forever. The emissions aren’t helpful to the environment in any way. So we need to set up renewable energy sources quickly.

We even have an ambitious target for this — by 2030, India wants 50% of its energy needs to be met by renewable sources. And for that to happen, the country will need a capacity of 500 GW of non-fossil fuel-based electricity integrated into its existing power network. That’ll need about $300 billion in additional investments. That’s time and money involved.

But let’s assume for a moment that we can tap into our EVs along the way. We have millions of them on the roads already. So you could potentially charge EVs to the brim by using solar energy when the sun is out and about. This way you don’t have to worry about ‘storing’ solar power. And when the sun sets and the lights come on everywhere, the energy in the EV battery could be used. It could be fed right back into the grid. And this saves money otherwise needed to build traditional renewable energy storage systems.

Now you might be scratching your head wondering what’s in this for the EV owner. Won’t they find that their battery has lost energy when they need it for a commute?

Well, these bidirectional charging systems are smart. You could have an app that tracks everything about the EV ― how much power it has, the time it needs to charge and discharge, and EV owners could even choose the minimum power their EV batteries must have at all times.

So if that worry is taken out of the equation, there is the allure of some pocket money too. See, EV owners won’t have to do it for free. They’ll get paid by the utility company for their troubles.  You just have to look at the results of one of the world’s largest domestic V2G trials in the UK. EV owners could earn up to $900 a year by supplying power from their cars to the grid.

Quite cool to think of your EV making some extra money for you, eh?

But of course, nothing is perfect. And there could be some downside to this as well.

For starters, setting up a V2G charging system costs quite a bit of extra money. Close to $5,000 more per charger. And that’s probably not an upfront cost that households might want to bear. So the only feasible option is for the government or private electricity companies to set these up at say office parking spots. Although it could still be cheaper than setting up huge power grids for storing renewable energy otherwise.

Then there’s the matter of batteries having a finite lifespan. There are limited cycles of charging and discharging that it can handle. Each cycle degrades the life of the battery. Now imagine a situation where instead of charging it once in 3 days to make that trip to the office and supermarket, you participate in V2G. It becomes an everyday thing. So the battery ends up charging and discharging more often. It could hurt the battery’s life too. Or at least that’s what some researchers have pointed out. And not every customer might want that, even if they earn some extra money for their troubles. Because if there’s one thing that’s not cheap in an EV, that’s the battery.

So yeah, it’s still very early days for all this. But it’s something worth thinking about as we make that ambitious transition to renewable energy.

Until then…

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