The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) says its Vehicle-to-Grid Program could drastically alter the marketplace for electric vehicles (EV). In the program, electric vehicles not in use will earn revenue from power companies by serving as miniature energy stations.
“Electric cars have pretty large batteries,” points out Camron S. Gorguinpour, director of transformational innovation for the program. “So we are researching if the batteries can be utilized for energy storage uses to offset the additional cost of acquiring them.”
In other words, the idea is for the electric cars’ owners to not only buy electricity from the power company to charge their batteries, but also to sell the power back to the grid when not in use. Although the electric vehicle batteries would not sell large amounts of energy back to the grid, they nonetheless could serve a valuable frequency regulation function to help stabilize power levels in specific areas and times – which can generate significant revenue for the auto owners.
“We think we could generate up to $190 per month for each electric vehicle plugged into the grid,” Gorguinpour says. That would go a long way because the average cost to lease an automobile on the consumer market is currently about $225 per month. “If you are a regular consumer in the retail leasing market, you could get a Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV or Chevy Volt for about $200 to $250 per month,” Gorguinpour says.
However, if the project pans out, the math works out pretty well for electric vehicles that plug back into the grid, especially when the gasoline savings are subtracted from the equation. “You are getting pretty close to a no-cost vehicle,” Gorguinpour says.
The DOD is testing the concept at five bases. The Los Angeles Air Force Base will utilize 41 EVs, 35 of which plug back into the grid. This will be the first federal facility to replace its entire general purpose fleet with EVs. There will be 19 at Fort Hood in Texas, eight at the McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, nine at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and an undetermined number at Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, Calif. The experiment involves 80 civilian-use vehicles out of the DOD’s entire fleet.
The program requires the use of software similar to that used by Zipcar and other hourly auto rental companies. The software must track how charged each car is as it is reserved for allocated timeblocks. The vehicles have the potential to earn more in certain locations, depending on the conditions in local energy ancillary service markets.
The idea was hatched in late 2010 when the assistant secretary of the Air Force tasked Gorguinpour with identifying strategies for acquiring EVs. During the first year of research, he came across studies from the University of Delaware detailing vehicle-to-grid research. The state of California is also encouraging public utilities to create a framework for vehicle-to-grid charging stations.
“Big power plants ramp up in the morning, peak in the afternoon and reduce at night,” Gorguinpour explains. “They look at historic patterns and are very good at supplying the correct amount using very sophisticated models. But there are random variations that can destabilize the grid so some are paid to put power on the grid to buffer and smooth out the grid. They provide that resource and earn money on the marketplace.”
Concurrent Technologies of Johnstown, Pa., conducts scientific and technical projects for the government and will select the first noncombat vehicles for the electric fleet.
The DOD began installing the charging stations and deploying EVs in July and the test is slated to last one year. The initial $30 million in funding covers the testing of 80 vehicles. “We are collecting data and looking to ensure it is working,” Gorguinpour says. “Are the vehicles running OK? Can fleet managers service them and understand how to operate this? We will also be looking at the financial value of the program.”
Princeton Power Systems of New Jersey design and manufacture the state-of-the-art technology solutions.
If the program is successful, Los Angeles Air Force Base could become the first federal facility to replace everything from passenger sedans to shuttle buses with electric versions. After that, more widespread implementation could follow. If all goes well, vehicle-to-grid programs could one day be available to consumers, as well.
“We’ve been working on this for three-and-a-half years,” Gorguinpour says. “I am very excited to have vehicles finally showing up and driving. It’s pretty exciting.”