GM To Make All of Its EV Batteries Bidirectional By 2026

An electric vehicle plugged in to a charging station.

by | Aug 31, 2023

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General Motors is betting that its electric vehicle batteries will serve as virtual power plants. In other words, it will introduce a car beginning in 2024 with a “bidirectional” battery that can absorb electricity to run a car. Still, it can also return it to homes, businesses, and the grid.

Virtual power plants involve the orchestration of millions of dispersed assets to manage electricity supply. Those locally distributed assets can form thousands of subsystems at roughly 5 kilowatts each.

But GM is focused on electric vehicle batteries. It said it will make all of its EVs bidirectional by 2026. Adding bidirectional charging powers will be “a game changer because it gives more customers the ability to unlock the value of their electric vehicle. It gives more customers the ability to unlock the value of their electric vehicle,” said Derek Sequeira, director for EV ecosystems at GM, in a story that appeared in The Verge.

The United States has been through a record-setting heatwave that the Energy Information Administration said could disrupt the grid’s reliability. Hence, bidirectional EV batteries can potentially prevent blackouts. During the first Texas winter freeze, the Ford 150 got much attention for keeping the heat on.

Roughly 28 million electric vehicles will hit U.S. roads by 2030 — storing more electricity than this country’s power plants. The battery storage in those vehicles is a valuable asset that could join in the collective aggregation strategy, supplying backup power if the primary grid is down. However, the aggregators must fairly compensate drivers to get them involved in the wholesale electricity market, says Jon Wellinghoff, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman and chief regulatory officer for Voltus, Inc.

Virtual power plants are possible because of an order written by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC Order 2222. That enables those assets to be aggregated and bid into wholesale energy markets run by grid operators.

Aggregators can monitor and manage distributed energy resources through cloud-based programs. Industrial and commercial businesses can curtail their demand at certain times, reducing stress on the electricity network. For example, aggregators enlist corporate EV fleets willing to hold back during peak usage — an electricity bundle packaged and sold into energy markets.

EV Fleets Are Good Corporate Assets

For example, the city of Boulder, Colorado, is trying out a vehicle-to-building technology, which takes electricity from electric vehicles and feeds that into buildings. It is partnering with Fermata Energy, which has bidirectional charging systems, to reduce the city’s building energy costs.

Fleet cars charge at night when the power demand is at its lowest and discharge during the day when electricity demand peaks. The goal is to cut the city’s electricity bills. Boulder has at least 21 EVs, potentially sending energy to the grid or buildings.

“Our technology is designed to assist EV owners in saving money, generating revenue, and reducing energy costs,” said David Slutzky, chief executive of Fermata Energy.

Indeed, fleet owners are motivated to use electricity-fueled vans and trucks to enhance their images. Take EO Charging, which gives them the tools to reduce the cost of ownership. By looking at EO’s software applications, those operators can determine the cheapest time to recharge. They can then program those applications to charge their vehicles before their morning runs.

However, those fleet operators could decide to forego the use of their vehicles and use them instead to heat and cool their homes. Or they could make that battery power available to grid operators and get paid. If operators plug 200 vans, buses, and trucks into the grid during peak hours, that could save the utility a lot of money and avoid building new natural gas-fired peaking plants.

“The nice thing about EV energy is that it is cheap at midnight,” says Charlie Jardine, chief executive of EO Charging. “Owners will examine the time those vehicles need to leave the next day, the state of the battery when it plugs in, and how many miles the vehicle must travel. Then they will know how much energy to send to those vehicles and ensure they are ready by morning at the lowest price.”

But those EV fleets are also valuable assets, potentially sending energy back to the grid and helping electric companies prevent blackouts. That’s why GM is making its EV batteries bidirectional.

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