Apart from electric cars, what do the American Tesla and the Chinese Nio have in common? Their ability to build virtual power plants, in order to become energy providers. We explain how.
Do you know what a virtual power plant is (virtual power plant in English) ? It’s the future, or even the present if we are to believe the projects of Tesla and Nio. In a nutshell, the aim is to create a “virtual” electricity network thanks to electricity storage products found in private homes in particular. For Tesla, these are the Powerwall batteries installed in private homes which are recharged with solar panels and for Nio, these are the battery exchange stations (swap station) present in Norway and China which integrate numerous batteries.
You get paid to send power to the grid
The idea is therefore to allow all these batteries to send energy to the electrical network when the latter needs it. Tesla has already demonstrated this this summer by partnering with PG&E and SCE, California’s two largest electricity providers. The latter asked the manufacturer, in July, to send them energy because of a lack of production and high consumption due to the use of air conditioners. Elon Musk’s firm then offered its customers with a Powerwall battery to let the latter discharge by sending electricity to the electricity grid, for a fee ($2 per kWh sent).
At peak, about 18,000 kW (18 MW) of electricity was supplied in real time to the electricity grid by the Tesla batteries. In other words, it is the average power of a wind farm in France. It should be noted that this energy was of renewable origin, since the vast majority of owners of a Tesla Powerwall have solar panels or solar tiles powering the battery. Moreover, since last year, Tesla has prevented the purchase of a Powerwall without its Solar Roof solar tiles.
In Texas, Tesla wants to become an electricity supplier
In Texas, Tesla wants to go even further and be recognized as an energy provider. The objective is the same as in California, namely to use its customers’ Powerwall batteries to send electricity to the grid. But unlike on the West Coast, Tesla wants to be recognized as a true energy provider, not just a producer. Which means that in practice, Texans will be able to sign an electricity contract with Tesla.
The American firm does not intend to rely solely on the “small” batteries of its individual customers. It can also count on its gigantic batteries, the Megapacks. Tesla plans to install 250 MW of capacity near its Gigafactory in Austin to connect it to the grid.
Nio uses its swap stations as a virtual powerhouse
China’s Nio also plans to play its part in virtual power plants. It must be said that with nearly 1,000 Power Swaps each comprising 13 electric car batteries with a capacity varying from 70 to 100 kWh, the Chinese manufacturer has a large reserve of energy, with at least 70,000 kWh (i.e. 70 MWh). These stations allow the brand’s customers to exchange their empty battery for a full one in less than five minutes. A great alternative to fast charging and Tesla Superchargers.
But Nio also sees these Power Swaps as an opportunity to enter the energy market. In China, the company wants to turn these stations into virtual power plants. A test has already taken place using 15 stations in the Hefei area. Which made it possible to reduce the local operator’s energy demand by 1.4% in just one minute using the energy stored in the Swap Station batteries. For the moment, this feature is only in the test state, but the future should prove Nio right.
The electric car as the savior of the electricity network
Indeed, if many consumers are worried about the impact of the electric car on electricity consumption, it is in fact a false issue. As the study by RTE (the French transmission system operator) proved a few months ago. According to the latter, French electricity consumption would increase by “only” 8% by 2035 due to the rise of the electric car. In the most optimistic scenario, the peak power demand (i.e. the maximum instantaneous French consumption at the height of winter) would even decrease thanks to electric cars !
This will be made possible by two mechanisms. The first, the simplest, is the control of the recharge. The cars will recharge when the network asks them to, in other words outside of peak periods. It should of course be possible to remove this constraint. The second, a little more complex to implement, is based on V2G technology (vehicle-to-grid) which allows the car battery to discharge temporarily (for example during the night) in order to support the electricity grid. .
In other words, electric cars (or more exactly their battery) will then be part of these virtual power plants. And precisely, Ford has just launched trials in Florida.
Ford is testing its F-150 Lightning as a virtual power plant
Ford is thus attempting the adventure of the virtual power plant and V2G (vehicle-to-grid) with its F-150 Lightning electric pickup, its large 131 kWh battery and its two-way charging. The idea is to use the pick-up battery when needed to send energy into the power grid.
Remember that the F-150 is one of the few electric vehicles to be equipped with bidirectional charging. Like the Kia EV6, this feature allows the car’s battery to be used to power electrical devices. The American pickup is not limited to the Korean’s 3.6 kW maximum power, but can provide a continuous power of 9.6 kWenough to power an entire house for several hours or days depending on consumption.
If the installation of your house allows it, you can already plug in an electric car with two-way charging to power the electrical circuit of the house. But Ford wants to go further by feeding the electrical grid and not just the house. It is Duke Energy, an American energy supplier who will take care of trying this functionality. In short, the energy revolution is underway!
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