Nissan sees future with EV-powered grid. But if they build it, will consumers connect?

The vision of electric vehicles being used for grid storage and energy management has, as Kristian Handberg put it in RenewEconomy back in 2012, “captivated people since EVs began reemerging as a viable transport option.”
This month, the latest take on that vision was proffered by Japanese car maker Nissan – the industry-leading manufacturer of the LEAF EV, which still ranks as the world’s all-time best selling highway-capable all-electric vehicle.
Nissan – which has for some years now been investigating the role of EVs, and used EV batteries, in distributed energy management systems – unveiled its vision of an EV-powered future via video at the Geneva Motor Show, describing it as “the first look at its fully connected vision of the future of mobility.”

The highly stylised two-minute clip – made by Nissan Europe in collaboration with architects Foster + Partners – conjures a world where, “charged by the sun, wind and the oceans, cars could empower people to store and then distribute renewable energy.”
“We’ve been at the forefront of zero emission technology since 2010, but our vision does not stop there,” said Nissan Europe chairman Paul Willcox at the video’s release. “We believe that the future of transportation is reliant on both infrastructure and the environment. We’re looking for real, workable solutions that go beyond the product.”
Incorporating a range of the car maker’s newest technologies – including Nissan’s autonomous vehicle concept due for release in 2017, the Qashqai – the video explores how vehicle-to-grid, battery storage, wireless charging, autonomous drive technology and the internet could combine to revolutionise how energy is used and distributed across Europe’s major cities.
“With Nissan’s wireless charging and universal connectivity, our vehicles could autonomously charge themselves, and then re-park so another vehicle on the street could use the same bay. All while you sleep,” the video voice over says. “And come the morning, your house and your grid could draw energy straight from your car, powering your house as you start the day.
“This is a smart street. The cars, houses, road and grid are all in sync. Connected.”
It’s an impressive video with an impressive vision – although not one that’s exclusive to Nissan.
Indeed, at last July’s EVs and the Grid Summit in Los Angeles, Tesla’s director of global electric vehicle infrastructure, Cal Lankton, described the realisation of “vehicle to grid”, or V2G technology, as “the pinnacle” for the industry – “that’s where we need to go.”
For enlightened utilities, V2G also represents a rich untapped resource – one that can improve the reliability of a grid with increasing amounts of intermittent renewable generation, smooth demand and lower costs and the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades; not to mention the much needed boost to electricity demand as millions of EVs plug in to recharge.
Noel Crisostomo, a public utilities regulatory analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission, put it this way: “It’s better to have demand to manage than no demand to manage at all.” More than anything, he told the LA summit, “the electric vehicle offers opportunities for renewables integration and grid reliability through vehicle grid integration.”
But there’s a way to go before we get to the “smart streets” depicted in Nissan’s video, and a lot of the work will need to be done by utilities and regulators to pave the way – not least of all in convincing the average EV owner that making their car an active participant in the energy market is in their best interest.
“There needs to be a clear benefit for them, both economically and altruistically to the grid,” Lankton told the LA summit. “Eventually, we’d want to get to a plug and play as a consumer and they can opt in or out.”
Willet Kempton, a University of Delaware professor who who is credited with developing the idea for V2G in 1996, and who presided over one of the first US pilots of V2G technology at the university in 2009, agrees it is about making it attractive and easy for consumers.
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This means encouraging auto makers spend the “few hundred extra dollars” to add the required V2G technology to their EV models, and creating clear economic incentives for EV drivers to collaborate with networks.
Already, this has proved elusive to many utilities and regulators around the world in the case of distributed rooftop solar and battery storage. Electric vehicles – essentially battery storage on wheels – add a few more layers of complexity to the equation.
For starters, as this Scientific American article notes, charging data from early EV adopters show most do not connect their EVs during the day; a problem that will grow as batteries ranges do (the new model LEAF, for example, is expected to offer double the range between battery charges).
“To make it economically attractive, most states need to add two words, ‘electric vehicles,’ to their net-metering laws,” Kempton told at the LA Summit in 2015.
“What we’re talking about are cars sitting in driveways not being used for 23 hours a day,” he said. “In the future, we’re talking about a tremendous amount of storage.”
Meanwhile, a lot of the technology needed to make V2G happen is already being developed. Just recently, for example, German inverter maker SMA trialled a wall-mounted charging station for bidirectional EV charging.
According to Detlef Beister, who develops new business models at SMA, the goal of the trial was not to see how much stored could be connected to the grid, but to see how customers reacted when their cars were connected to the power market.
Gero Lücking, head of the German power provider, Lichtblick, which collaborated with SMA on the trial, said the main aim was to get a reliable volume from a pool of thousands of vehicles based on forecasts and statistics.
“The project revealed certain driving and charging patterns, so that we can offer this reliable capacity thanks to information our customers provide via an app,” Lüking said. “We make sure that the battery capacity promised is available along with a security margin that customers demand when they want to take off again. After all, we don’t want such business models to restrict individual mobility at any point.”

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