EV batteries and vehicle-to-grid tech needed for Europe's net-zero future

In this guest post, Aidan McClean, CEO of online electric vehicle hire firm UFODRIVE, sets out why the UK’s successful ‘Vehicle to Grid’ trials show that increasing electric car ownership can create a more flexible, on-demand, energy infrastructure.

One of the biggest issues with renewable energy is that the sun is not always shining or the wind always blowing. Traditionally, natural gas has been seen as the answer to this question – but with a climate crisis worsening every day, and Russia using its gas supplies to manipulate and influence its customer states, this is no longer an option.

On 12 July 2022, a new trial concluded – showing that the use of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging can help to balance the grid while also cutting charging costs for drivers. The trial saw electric vehicle (EV) drivers in Milton Keynes test V2G chargers, which allow energy stored in the car battery to be sold back to the grid to power the home or the grid at large.

Charging the vehicle during low energy pricing periods and powering the National Grid or home during periods of high cost reduced cost by at least 40% – some to zero. Furthermore, charging the car during periods when renewable energy generation rates are high and powering the home during fossil fuel generation (when renewable sources aren’t producing) allowed for reductions in carbon emissions of at least 25%, with some achieving 100% when timed correctly.

Around the same time, major market leaders in European battery storage technologies, technology institutes, and venture capitalist funds penned an Open Letter to the European Commission. It argued that Europe’s net zero, geopolitically-independent energy goals require a huge increase in battery storage infrastructure.

This is for much of the same reason: we need to be able to store energy when the wind blows or the sun shines, and use stored energy on dark nights or still days instead of relying on dirty fuels or tenuous natural gas supplies.

Here, EV’s could help in achieving this flexible, cheap and independent on-demand energy grid. According to Virta Global, there will be 140-240 million electric vehicles globally by 2030, which means that we’ll have at least 140 million small, portable energy storage batteries on wheels with an aggregated storage capacity of 7 TWh, or 7000 GWh.

Considering that in 2021 only 2.4 GW of storage was developed in Europe, but various studies predict we’ll need around 200 GW of energy storage by 2030, there needs to be a significant increase in battery storage capacity. Yet, even just a small percentage of EVs with V2G potential could provide a huge boost.

Battery storage, alongside efficient grid management, supply-side control, demand-side response, and pumped hydroelectric storage are all essential too: but we can’t pick and choose, we will need to use every weapon in our arsenal to ensure a flexible, effective, net zero grid.

The recent V2G trials just underline how important electric vehicles can be with sound policy, software, and infrastructure. They not only eliminate tailpipe emissions but can provide tangible and long-term benefits to the National Grid as well as to individual households as portable power stations.

The Open Letter penned by Fluence to the European Commission lays the importance of storage capacity out clearly, but too many people fail to see that the answer may already exist – EV batteries. If each one by 2030 could plug into and power the grid or someone’s home, Europe would have more battery storage capacity than it could ever need.

As of 2022, not all electric cars offer a vehicle-to-grid option. Tesla cars don’t yet have this capability and have so far declined to entertain it as a possible future option, as it could be argued that vehicle-to-grid would compete with Tesla’s own Powerwall business. This should change if we want to maximise the chances of creating an effective net zero grid.

Accessibility and lack of common standards is what is holding grid energy storage capacity, as well as V2G, back. We need clear, unified public policy and accessible and universal manufacturing standards in order to fully realise the potential of private capital and enterprise – which remains as enthusiastic as ever

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