Vehicle-to-Grid Programs Give Rise to Mobile Microgrids

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In recent years, a few utilities have begun testing vehicle-to-grid (V2G) projects to determine whether electric vehicles (EVs) or EV fleets can support the grid when it’s stressed — making the vehicles into mobile microgrids.


Nissan Leaf, photo courtesy of Fermata Energy

The idea is that EVs can serve as mobile microgrids available to help supply power to the grid or reduce power consumption when the grid is stressed. They can also pitch in when the sun goes down and power to replace solar is needed.

These programs are growing and demonstrating the value of relying on EVs to support the grid.

One recent project is a five-bus EV fleet provided by Lion Electric and used by the White Plains, New York, school district. In December 2020, the buses began providing power to Con Edison customers, which was the first time in the state that buses fed power into a utility grid.

The buses serve as mobile microgrids, charging and discharging at a depot in North White Plains. They plug into a charger when demand for power from Con Ed is low, and reverse the flow into the grid when the buses aren’t taking kids to and from school. The project is going as planned, said Brian Alexander, director of public relations for Lion Electric.

A new partnership between electric mobility company Revel, clean energy developer NineDot Energy and vehicle-to-grid company Fermata Energy wants to take the mobile microgrid idea to new levels with a pilot program in Brooklyn, New York. Three Nissan Leaf EVs will provide power to Con Edison.

Revel has a long-term goal of using its fleet of electric ride-sharing vehicles — all Tesla EVs — to support the grid in New York City and elsewhere, said Paul Suhey, co-founder of Revel. Right now, the Teslas, which aren’t bidirectional, are not being used in the pilot.

Where mobile microgrids can help

David Slutzky, founder and CEO of Fermata Energy, said bidirectional EVs would have helped the Texas grid in February when it ran low on power. EVs can also help western utilities grappling with drought and high demand in the summer, he said. The EVs can also provide power to help meet the demand created by EV charging.

“They are the solution to the grid’s need for storage to address climate change and the transition to renewables,” said Slutzky.

Under the pilot program, three of Fermata’s FE-15 bidirectional DC chargers and three Nissan Leaf EVs will be installed and tested at Revel’s maintenance facility in the Bed–Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, with 45 kW of on-demand power from the EVs flowing to Con Edison, beginning next year.

Also located at the Bed-Stuy facility, but not involved in this project, is Revel’s EV fast-charging hub, a universal fast-charging station with 25 DC fast chargers and a 7-MW grid connection.

Revel hopes that its growing number of superhubs, like the one in Bed-Stuy, will be enrolled in utility demand response programs. In addition, Revel is looking at installing energy storage batteries and, at some point, sending power to the grid via its EV fleet or reducing demand from chargers during peak hours, said Suhey.

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What’s needed for vehicle-to-grid success

In order for vehicle-to-grid programs to be successful and reap income for the EV owners, three things are needed, said Adam Cohen, chief technology officer of NineDot Energy.

First, bidirectional vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, need to be used.

Second, bidirectional chargers like those supplied by Fermata are needed.

And third, local utilities need to offer incentives. Many utilities offer demand response programs under which EVs can control charging loads to avoid charging during peak demand periods on the grid. Con Edison and other New York state utilities also offer a Value of Distributed Energy Resources Value Stack tariff, under which distributed energy resource (DER) providers are compensated based on the time of day and the location of the DER. For example, if EV owners can provide power during peak demand periods, they’ll be paid more than during off-peak periods.

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“In practice, the grid exports will only be provided during specific utility call windows and peak events when the exports provide the most resilience and reliability benefits to the local power grid,” said Cohen. These windows are called “demand reduction value call windows” under the tariff. The call windows are specific to the local power grid conditions and aim to match the times when grid exports are the most beneficial, he said.

“V2G holds the potential to help us reduce carbon emissions while maintaining our industry-leading reliability, which are both top priorities for Con Edison,” said Karl-Erik Stromsta, a spokesman for Con Edison, who said he wasn’t in a position to confirm the details of the pilot.

A study by E Source found that Nissan Leaf owners, in general, could earn up to $9,000 annually using Level 2 chargers at a workplace when using the cars to manage monthly demand on the grid, said Bryan Jungers, director of mobility at E Source, a data science firm. The minimum they would earn would be about $1,800 a year.

mobile microgrids

By petovarga/

Pilots elsewhere

In addition to the pilot from Revel and its partners, a number of other vehicle-to-grid programs are underway.

A 2018 pilot by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) found that vehicle-to-home technology is technically capable of islanding and supporting household load during outages and demand response events, said Ari Vanrenen, a spokesperson for PG&E.

Customers also expressed high interest. “However, the technology is not yet commercially available and vehicle warranties must be modified to allow for discharge, the cost to customers exceeds their perceived benefits, and the net benefits to the utility and ratepayers are likely not sufficient to surmount the low cost-effectiveness for customers,” she said.

That conclusion didn’t sway the utility from implementing new pilot projects.

PG&E has submitted proposals to the California Public Utilities Commission for additional EV projects, including residential and commercial vehicle-to-grid projects as well as vehicle-to-microgrid projects.

Slutzky of Fermata said that his company is working with numerous utilities and has begun deploying 25 bidirectional chargers, half of which are earning money for customers or participating in utility pilot projects. They should all be operating in the next few months, he said.

Fermata is working with the city of Boulder, Colorado, Green Mountain Power, Roanoke Electric Cooperative and other organizations, he said.

For Revel, the Brooklyn pilot project is the first step in its mission to lead cities into a carbon-free future, said Suhey, whose company owns, operates and controls its fleet of Teslas.

“A car is a mobile storage asset; it can move to different places on the grid, where needed. We are working with utilities and hardware and software partners to pilot the technology and are learning as we go,” Suhey said.

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  1. This is a fantastic innovation on the path to transitioning to clean energy and decarbonizing electricity grids however, there is a problem. Distribution grids were not designed for two-way power flow and therefore have a very limited hosting capacity to DER, such as rooftop solar, energy storage and bi-directional EVs.

    Generation exported into the distribution network causes voltage rise and power quality issues, forcing network operators to curtail the amount of export or to complete expensive and unsustainable distribution grid upgrades to contain voltage within statutory limits. These measures significantly reduce the amount of DER that can be cost-effectively interconnected, severely inhibiting the transition to clean energy and the decarbonization of electricity grids globally.

    A great example of this is the AGL residential battery VPP piloted in South Australia. The result was that due to the grids limited hosting capacity and the voltage volatility challenges that exist when exporting clean energy onto the distribution grid, energy storage assets were not able to provide the energy needed when called upon by the local utility. The same problem will occur with bi-directional EV’s when called upon to export energy with the net result being that they cannot provide a consistent and reliable service to the grid and therefore have a very limited scope of application.

    Luckily there is a solution. The team at eleXsys Energy has been focused on solving this problem through their world-first eleXsys technology. The eleXsys device is an advanced power electronics unit integrating a suite of artificial intelligence proprietary software applications ensuring next-generation two-way smart grids. Our hardware and AI based software autonomously manages the stability and resilience of distributed generation, unlocking the full potential of electricity networks to integrate DER and ensuring the most efficient, lowest-cost delivery of clean energy and network stability services.

    Technologies such as that developed by eleXsys Energy will be required to transform our electricity networks and allow for the integration of high saturations of DER including rooftop solar, energy storage, and bi-directional EVs.

  2. Neal Barkett says:

    Steve, You article is pretty exciting. This whole charging situation and talk of V2G V2H etc. has my head spinning. I want to be part of this EV revolution, especially V2G. I had investments in oil companies but because of our climate change I felt guilty. I’m lost on who are the tech leaders in this category? I’m actually looking at a company out of San Diego called Nuvve. They have been doing studies in Norway and I think have a patented on a V2G application. Are they for real or who are the the leaders in this field. It seems like this is so important because of our grid not being what we would hope. Thanks Neal

  3. Interesting: “Under the pilot program, three of Fermata’s FE-15 bidirectional DC chargers and three Nissan Leaf EVs will be installed and tested at Revel’s maintenance facility in the Bed–Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, with 45 kW of on-demand power from the EVs flowing to Con Edison, beginning next year.”

    This is talking about 45kWh of energy storage, if one selects the right components and sets up a grid interactive ESS, you could use this 45kWh to up to 60kWh and make most homes grid agnostic, the bidirectional BEV would be extreme grid failure back up. As the roll out of BEVs become more ubiquitous prices for energy storage packs will also come down and one day you might be able to install something like 100kWh in your home for $300/kWh installed.