Vehicle-to-grid technology poses unique challenges

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Power utilities, car manufacturers, and governments are beginning to look at EVs the same way they look at power plants and transformers — as essential components of the grid, rather than mere loads. V2G technology promises to help alleviate increasing energy demands, but the current strain on the electronic component industry may stall large-scale implementation.

Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) systems have the potential to turn the entire population of electric vehicles into one giant decentralized battery. With the permission of EV owners, utility providers can store and draw electricity from V2G-connected cars, making power grids more efficient by regulating energy distribution.

Consequently, however, large-scale implementation of V2G systems may strain the electronic component industry by accelerating demand.

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Controllable loads: managing power between vehicle and grid

The rising popularity of electric vehicles presents a unique challenge for utility providers. Following the midday lull, power grids can become strained in the attempt to meet the cumulative energy demand of returning 9-5ers and, in some neighborhoods, EVs being plugged in for their evening charge cycle. Due to the scattered concentration of EV owners, these loads are not evenly distributed across the grid, resulting in unstable surges.

Before EV adoption becomes more mainstream, utility providers need to make this strain on the grid more manageable. Adding electric vehicles and their chargers to the “controllable loads” of a smart grid would allow utility companies to remotely adjust EV power consumption the same way they can limit household thermostats.

The San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) has piloted a project that does exactly this. Hourly changes to electricity prices control the behavior of EV charging stations (with end-users’ permission) to moderate the load they place on the grid.

V2G: power from the vehicle to the grid

The one-way nature of projects like SDG&E’s treat electric vehicles as pure power-consumption devices, ignoring the stabilizing role that EVs—and their batteries in particular—could play in day-to-day grid operations. Rather than controllable loads, EVs could become controllable sources of grid-connected power.

A recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory report identified ways in which a vehicle-to-grid system could help moderate the contribution of renewable energy sources to the power grid. Utility providers could use V2G systems to even out fluctuations caused by natural (and therefore inconsistent) energy sources.

Additionally, they could use V2G-connected EVs to store excess power generated by renewable sources (such as solar panels) throughout the day and redistribute energy back onto the grid at nighttime.

High voltage electrical grid

V2G pilot projects

V2G applications are undoubtedly promising, but will car owners allow utility providers to tap into their EV’s batteries? Around the world, governments and their adjoining utility programs are coordinating with EV manufacturers to find out.

Nissan, which makes the V2G-enabled Leaf, is at the center of many of these V2G pilot projects.

In a small-scale test reported by Autoweek in 2017, Nissan experimented by installing several “smart” EV chargers in the UK. During periods of excess energy, these chargers topped off EV batteries to their maximum capacity, and when demand spiked later in the day, power was allocated back into the grid to help regulate supply—of which utility companies actually paid the individual EV owners.

In an effort to push V2G research even further, the British government funded a larger Nissan-led project that plans to install and test a total of 1,000 V2G chargers. Executive Francisco Carranza, in support of his company’s vision to double-down on the promising technology, shared, “Nissan has reiterated its bold mission to offer customers free power for their EVs. V2G introduction will change the rules of the game and make energy cheaper for everyone.”

In contrast, the current most prominent EV-maker, Tesla, has not shown the same initiative for advocating V2G technology.

Back in 2006, Tesla’s then-CEO Martin Eberhart told Public Utilities Fortnightly that he was “getting a lot of interest from utilities” who saw the value of EV energy storage. Nevertheless, Tesla’s interest in V2G faded shortly after Eberhart left the company, and none of Tesla’s recent line of vehicles currently support V2G integration.

The company stance could soon change, however, as Tesla’s current CEO Elon Musk recently tweeted that V2G may be worth revisiting.

V2G’s impact on the electronic component industry

Today, electric vehicles still only represent a niche segment of the automotive market, but the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory forecasts that by 2025, California alone will have an estimated 1.5 million plug-in EVs on the road. The governments of both France and the United Kingdom, meanwhile, have released public plans to ban the sale of internal combustion cars by 2040.

Utility providers are expected to support EV adoption as well. The aforementioned Lawrence Berkeley study estimates that their 1.5 million EV forecast would add more than 5GW of storage capacity to the grid—the equivalent of 35 natural gas power plants. In addition, a study of European V2G policies and incentives suggested “net metering systems” that offering reimbursement for electricity returned to the grid could be an ideal approach for consumer acceptance.

The increase of mass-produced EVs in the coming years is projected to spike demand within the electronic component industry. As it stands, each electric vehicle requires significantly more components than a traditional car; American electronics manufacturer KEMET Corporation elaborated to its shareholders that the 2,500 multi-layer ceramic capacitors in traditional cars pale in comparison to the 10,000 capacitors necessary to operate a Tesla Model X.

In the near term, supply shortages and extended order lead times may persist. “It really started with a huge uptick in the automotive market segment with electronic content for each vehicle is up substantially,” Future Electronics executive Jacques Hing told EBN.

George Whittier, COO of automotive systems supplier Morey Corp, warned EPSNews that supply constraints may last another two years. “We have not missed deliveries yet,” Whittier said, “but we are on the edge.”

In the long run, EV adoption is an opportunity that some component manufacturers plan to seize. Vishay Intertechnology CEO Gerald Paul told investors that the company “continues to increase the manufacturing capacities of its key product lines…. We are excited about the opportunities that accelerated market growth offers Vishay, especially in automotive and industrial applications.”

Other manufacturers are not so forward-thinking. DigiTimes reports that certain Taiwanese and Japanese manufacturers of passive components have not increased production capacity, despite the rising demand.

“This is not a one or two year cycle or even an eight-year cycle, but indeed a 20-year growth cycle,” North Carolina State University supply chain expert Dr. Robert Handfield wrote. “The winners will be those who invest in this opportunity, and the losers will under-invest.”

What are your thoughts on how V2G technology may affect the electronic component industry? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!