Many believe that distributed energy resources hold the key to a smart and smooth energy transition. If hundreds or even thousands of sources of generation and storage are connected then their orchestrated operation should deliver clean, reliable power. The important energy soaks in such a network would likely be residential batteries. The only problem is that owners might not feel so great about sharing their stored solar energy with anyone else. Also, home batteries are expensive and kind of small.

With the inevitable replacement of petrol-powered jalopies with silent and sleek electric vehicles, powered by batteries between four and eight times as powerful as the average residential unit, the design of a connected network of distributed energy resources that included EVs would be far more simple.

That’s the thinking of a research team at the Australian National University and ACT power company ActewAGL, who will deploy $2.4 million in grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to trial of the world’s largest vehicle-to-grid demonstration, deploying 50 new EVs in the ACT government fleet and one in ActewAGL’s own fleet.

The Realising Electric Vehicle-to-Grid Services (REVS) trial will use the second-generation Nissan Leaf, the first electric vehicle available in Australia to be equipped with bidirectional charging capability. ActewAGL will use the cars’ 40kWh batteries to provide backup power and discharge electricity to the grid, store excess renewable energy and provide services that help to stabilise the network.

Fast and efficient

The Australian National University is partnering on the project to demonstrate that the vehicle-to-grid concept can work at scale in the real world. ANU research lead Dr Bjorn Sturmberg says the ultra-fast reactions of EV batteries make them well-suited to balancing the grid.

“One EV battery typically contains as much energy as an average household uses over two-to-four days and can react to events in a tenth of a second,” Stumberg says. “If all of Australia’s 19 million vehicles were electric, they would store more energy than nine Snowy 2.0s, or over 20,000 Tesla Big Batteries.”

It will be a long time until all the cars on the nation’s roads are propelled via the work of electrons, but the researchers hope a connected network of parked and plugged-in vehicles will offer significant services to the grid, including frequency control ancillary services, or FCAS.

If successful, our rolling stock could provide a new way to fine tune the frequency of the grid to maintain stability and prevent blackouts.

The fleet of EVs used in the trial will largely be used during business hours for work-related trips around the ACT and plugged in when not on the road, which ActewAGL expects will make them available about 70% of the time to provide grid services.

“It’s a powerful collective of stakeholders invested in supporting the uptake of renewables through vehicle-to-grid capabilities, which have an important role to play in ensuring the resilience and reliability of our energy system,” says ActewAGL group manager of product and strategic energy deployments Todd Eagles.

The consortium also includes JET Charge, Evoenergy, SG Fleet and Nissan.

Your money back

Owners of electric vehicles can also benefit from financial incentives as a result of their electric vehicles being able to facilitate the two-way flow of energy, Eagles says. “By focusing on fleets in the first instance, which make up around half of all new cars purchased in Australia, we’ll demonstrate the ability to scale these capabilities for shared value across the energy system and for vehicle owners.”

Alongside the vehicle-to-grid demonstration, ANU will produce a vehicle-to-grid roadmap for Australia that outlines the potential of the technology and possible steps to achieve it. The REVS project will run until February 2022.