Pacific Gas and Electric is in the midst of enrolling customers into an ambitious new pilot program that seeks to use electric car vehicles as a means of powering daily life and stabilizing the grid.
The “Vehicle to Everything” pilot envisions a future in which automobiles not only draw their power from the electrical grid but can also strategically add electricity back in when demand is high — and generate some money for their owners along the way.
The concept of bidirectional energy flow using EV batteries isn’t new, and dot.LA has covered various vehicle-to-grid endeavors in the past. But having a utility company as large as PG&E onboard could begin to transform the idea into a reality.
Though the program’s website has been live for a few weeks, PG&E officially began to invite customers to pre-enroll starting on December 6th. The pilot has space for 1,000 residential customers and 200 commercial customers. PG&E isn’t releasing the numbers for how many people have signed up so far, but Paul Doherty, a communications architect at the company, says he expects the enrollment period to take several months, stretching into Q1 2023.
On the residential side, customers can receive financial incentives up to $2,500 just for enrolling in the pilot. That money, says Doherty, goes towards the cost of installing a bidirectional charger at the customer’s residence. The cost of installation varies according to the specifications of the residence, but Doherty says it’s unlikely that $2,500 will cover the full cost for most users, though it may come close, with most installations ranging in the low thousands.
But there’s more money to be had as well. Once the bidirectional charger is installed, customers can not only use the electricity to power their homes but also begin selling electricity back to the grid during flex alerts. Southern California residents may remember back in September when the electric grid was pushed to its breaking point thanks to an historic heatwave. During such events–or any other disaster that strains the system–customers can plug their vehicle in, discharge the battery and get paid.
Doherty says that users can expect to make between $10 and $50 per flex alert depending on how severe the event is and how much of their battery they’re willing to discharge. That might not seem like a huge sum, but the pilot program is slated to last two years. Meaning that if California averages 10 flex alerts per year like in 2022, customers could make $1,000. That could be enough to offset the rest of the bidirectional charger installation or provide another income stream. Not to mention, help stabilize our beleaguered grid.
There is one gigantic catch, however. PG&E has to test and validate any bi-directional charger before it can be added into the program. So far, the only approved hardware is Ford’s Charge Station Pro, meaning only one vehicle–the F-150 Lightning–can participate in the program. That should change soon as the utility company tests additional hardware from other brands. Doherty says they’re expecting to add the Nissan LEAF, Hyundai’s IONIQ 5, the KIA EV6 and others soon since it’s just a matter of testing and integrating those chargers into the program.
One name notably absent from that list is Tesla. So far, the country’s largest EV presence hasn’t announced concrete plans for bidirectional charging, meaning there’s no way for Tesla owners to participate in the pilot.
“We hope they come to the table as soon as possible,” says Doherty. “That would be a game changer.”
The commercial side of the pilot looks similar to the residential. Businesses receive cash incentives upfront to help offset the cost of installing bidirectional charger and then get paid for their contribution to stabilizing the grid in times of duress. PG&E says electric school bus fleets, especially, represent attractive targets for this technology due to their large battery capacity, high peak power needs, and predictable schedule–a strategy that mirrors what V2G pioneer Nuvve described to dot.LA back in October.
If California’s plan to transition all new car sales to electric by 2035 actually succeeds — which would require it to add nearly two million new EVs to state roads every year — that’s two million rolling, high power batteries with the potential to power our homes, our jobs and the grid at large. Getting there will be a colossal undertaking, but PG&E’s pilot should be a litmus test of sorts, assuming they can figure out how to get more vehicles than the Ford Lightning into the program.
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