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In the Future, Your Parked Car Will Power Your House

Vehicle-to-grid technology: The U.S. military is about to give it a test-drive.

On a continued mission to reduce overall fleet expenses, increase mission capabilities, and achieve energy efficiency goals, the Department of Defense recently announced a plan to spend $20 million on the first year of a pilot program that will test a vehicle fleet of 500 plug-in electric vehicles and related infrastructure using vehicle-to-grid technology at six installations nation-wide. Vehicle-to-grid, or V2G, is a system by which power can be passed back and forth between a parked vehicle and the power grid. That means, if needed, an electric vehicle could temporarily provide back-up energy to the grid.

According to E&E News:

The Pentagon predicts that the revenue generated by providing these services will quickly offset the higher price of electric vehicles, which often cost twice as much as their combustion-engine counterparts. And after 10 years, the military calculates, money saved through such a system would cover the upfront investment in charging infrastructure and pioneering software needed to manage the fleet.


This is a big step for the military that could have huge effects on the growth of the electric vehicle market, as well as the growth of the V2G market. According to E&E News, “Companies with large corporate fleets, including FedEx Corp., Frito Lay Inc. and UPS Inc., have been interested in electric vehicles, but so far the market hasn’t grown enough to give them the options—or the price—they want. With an order of 500 vehicles for the U.S. military, plus infrastructure, the market may open up for more affordable investment for corporations.”

The military is currently pursuing the possibility of third-party financing for the pilot program—the first demonstration of V2G technology, and in addition to security, environmental, and financial objectives, one of the goals of the program is to demonstrate what the potential profit margins could be for industry. If the results are as predicted, it could make a case for third-party financing and bring down the price of both electric vehicle and V2G technology.

Though V2G is an exciting concept, it is also a very new one. Cars were not originally designed to communicate with the grid, and it is important to note that one of the goals of the Pentagon’s V2G pilot project is to test and demonstrate V2G technology in the real world. Like any new concept, V2G has potential pros and cons in the real world. One of the advantages of V2G is that the back-up power it provides could help to correct imbalances in the electric power grid. The technology could also provide support to grids run on renewable energy like wind and solar.

Scientific American states:

Wind generated power production, for example, is often greatest at night, when demand for power is typically low. In our current power grid there is limited capacity for power storage, so any nocturnally generated wind energy above and beyond what’s used immediately goes to waste. V2G is an obvious solution, at least in part, for storing that power, and then drawing on the stored electricity during periods of high power demand.


But what happens if someone needs to drive a vehicle whose battery has just been used for power to the grid? Certainly, careful planning and advanced scheduling technology will be required to address that rather obvious issue. Another potential drawback to the technology is the affect V2G could have on battery life. According to Scientific American, “Putting power back into the grid rather than only one-way charging results in more battery charge-discharge cycles, which can shorten the battery’s useful life.” This will be a challenge for battery manufacturers to address.

Certainly, every new technology has hurdles to clear. V2G technology has the potential to increase U.S. energy security and fuel efficiency, two issues central to Sustainable America’s mission. We look forward to following the progress of the Pentagon’s V2G pilot program, which promises to answer many questions about V2G’s practicality on a larger scale.

Image courtesy of Kempton and Tomic 2005; Journal of Power Sources

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