Navigant Research Blog

EVs Integrate With the Smart Grid

John Gartner — December 20, 2013

More than 1 million plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) will be on American roads by 2017, according to Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts report, which in aggregate has the potential to increase or extend the peak load on the power grid.  However, thanks to new onboard technology for smartly managing vehicle charging, they will become a considerable asset to the power grid at little cost to utilities.

Automakers don’t want PEVs to be disruptive to the power grid, and they do want consumers to pay as little as possible for electricity; therefore, many companies are integrating technology to make their vehicles responsive to the grid.  For example, GM’s new 2014 Cadillac ELR includes hardware and software enabling the vehicle to receive and respond to grid pricing and performance data via the vehicles’ OnStar’s telematics system. The smart grid features on the ELR include:

  • Demand response: An API is included that will be used for a future opt-in service that enables customers to save money on energy costs by turning off charging in response to signals from the electric grid.  GM hasn’t said anything about if or how customers will be compensated.
  • Time-of-Use rates: Via OnStar, the ELR can receive dynamic time-of-use pricing from utilities and select and send a rate plan to the vehicle to simplify scheduling of charging times.
  • Charging data: GM will collect EV data, including locations, to direct customers to charging stations, while also allowing them to provide information to utilities about potential load scenarios.
  • Aggregated services: GM will enable ELRs to coordinate charging with energy aggregating companies to better match electricity demand to supply in a specific geographic area.

GM is not alone in adding grid features; Ford, Chrysler, and others are also looking to work with (and get money from) grid operators by tracking when, where, and how vehicles charge.  As described in Navigant Research’s recent report, Vehicle to Grid Technologies, the most popular vehicle-to-grid application will be demand response, in which energy customers voluntarily reduce demand when the grid is stressed.

Utilities will look with favor on PEVs because, unlike purchasing stationary energy storage to balance the grid, the batteries within the PEVs don’t cost the utilities anything; they only need to develop an adequate method of compensating vehicle owners.

The Cadillac ELR is a range-extended vehicle that can travel up to 37 miles on battery power alone, and up to 340 miles with the gas engine providing additional power to charge the batteries.  The ELR also comes loaded with safety features such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and other systems that are part of the suite of emerging autonomous vehicle features, which are described in Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report.  While other PEVs offer automatic regenerative braking or multiple settings that will slow the car and capture energy, the ELR includes small paddles on the steering column.  It will be interesting to see how consumers respond to braking by hand rather than by foot.

With a base price of “only” $75,000, the car isn’t much more expensive than the gasoline-powered Cadillac CTS-V Coupe ($64,900), and will compete with the $72,400, 265-mile range Tesla Model S.

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