That electric car parked in your driveway may soon be more than a fun, emissions-free ride. When lashed together in the cloud with other EVs in your neighborhood, it could help utilities manage electricity demand in your community.
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Why it matters: Massive growth in electric vehicle adoption — which is widely expected — means that more car owners will be plugging in at home, putting pressure on America's electric grid but creating power-sharing opportunities at the same time.
Emerging smart-charging technologies aim to build in more flexibility so grid upgrades aren't needed and EV owners will have all the juice they need.
What's happening: EV owners can earn rebates and cash rewards from smart-charging programs by letting utilities control when their car is charged based on overall electricity demand.
In Texas, for example, about 1,000 EV owners participate in a smart-charging project with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
Together, those cars serve as a cloud-based "virtual power plant" that ERCOT can use to suck or store energy during demand peaks and valleys.
In Wisconsin, Madison Gas and Electric shifts charging times for 200 EVs to off-peak hours so they can soak up renewable energy generated overnight by wind farms.
Both utilities license the smart-charging technology from a London-based company called ev.energy, which has offices in Palo Alto.
The big picture: EV owners do more than 80% of their charging at home, according to a BloombergNEF analysis of ev.energy data from more than 1 million at-home charging sessions in the U.S., U.K. and Europe.
Most of them plug in after work, start charging right away, and stay plugged in overnight, often setting the departure time for their morning commute.
Yes, but: The typical charging session requires just a little top-off — 2.5 hours of charging — which means most EVs are drawing energy in the early evening when residential demand is at its peak and electricity rates are highest.
Smart-charging technology can delay charging until demand has gone down, and greener, cheaper energy is more readily available.
That lets utilities balance electricity demand while also maximizing the use of renewable energy and putting more money in EV owners' pockets.
An EV owner in California could save an estimated $600 per year charging at off-peak times, BNEF found.
How it works: EV owners plug in their car, set a departure time using ev.energy's app, and let the utility figure out the ideal charging time based on a 24-hour forecast of energy demand.
If necessary, the software will pause charging at the utility's request, then resume later.
Car owners' flexibility earns them rebates or cash rewards of $5 or $10 a month.
The utility will never drain the car's battery, says Joseph Vellone, head of North America for ev.energy. "Your departure time is the holy grail."
"The electricity system is incredibly complex. EV buyers can’t be bothered to immerse themselves in this complexity. We ask them one question: What time do you need your car charged by?"
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show that Madison Gas and Electric shifts charging times for 200 EVs to off-peak hours for maximum efficiency, not 2,000 EVs. A partner company, ev.energy, reached out to say there was a numerical mistake in the report it shared with Axios.
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