All The Energy Storage The Grid Needs Will Soon Be Under Our Noses

Volkswagen - Production of battery cells for electric cars

If energy and transportation planners stop seeing their sectors as separate markets for batteries—a World Resources Institute researcher argued last week—there will be more than enough energy storage to go around.

“An electric vehicle, because of the battery, is really both a mobility asset and an energy asset,” said Camron Gorguinpour, WRI’s global senior manager for electric vehicles, “and so we really want to start looking at the duality of electric vehicles rather than really just trying to focus on one thing.”

Vehicle-to-grid technology is not a new idea—China jumped on it early—but it looks like an increasingly promising idea as electric-vehicle adoption takes off.

The International Energy Agency’s most conservative estimate puts 130 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, and Gorguinpour said those vehicles will contain almost ten times the amount of energy storage needed by the grid.

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The IEA’s most aggressive estimate, 250 million EVs, would mean 6 percent of the batteries in the automotive fleet could meet all of the grid’s energy-storage needs.

“When we talk about the dual nature of electric vehicles as energy and mobility assets this is really what we’re talking about,” he said.

If the energy and transportation systems can share batteries, it will reduce demand on resources such as lithium, critical minerals and rare earth elements, Gorguinpour said last week in a webinar hosted by Climate Action.

“If you don’t use vehicles for this purpose, you’re going to have to create stationary batteries which would then put pressure on the available resources to provide the necessary energy services,” he said, “so part of the strategy is again coupling different activities using common resources so that we’re not really putting a lot of pressure—well, more pressure than necessary—on available natural resources.”

WRI hopes not just to minimize the impact on natural resources but to leverage the energy transition to create more sustainable systems.

“Rather than just swap in one power train for another we want to be able to create whole systems that reinforce sustainability,” said Gourguinpour, who formerly led the U.S Air Force’s Office of Transformational Innovation.

Vehicle owners might not want their car batteries tapped for the grid, he acknowledged, because of concerns about battery life. But those concerns do not apply to all the uses of grid batteries, he responded, and those concerns that do can be managed systemically.

“If you’re doing frequency regulation, which is basically just fine-tuning the grid, you do many cycles but very shallow-depth discharging. You wouldn’t expect significant degradation of the battery in that case,” he said. “If you’re doing things that require deep discharge of the battery every day, obviously that would be a different story and might have a more significant impact on the battery, but as we look to the future—in 2030 again, keeping in mind that there would be vastly more storage capacity in EV batteries than the world would need even for those services that today you might think require a huge depth of discharge—if you spread that a thousand different ways across many vehicles then it probably would not actually be that significant.”

As battery prices continue to fall, he added, people may have less concern about battery life.

“Nobody wants to have their battery just drained, even if it’s not an expensive battery, but the relative pain and anxiety would probably diminish, and also the quality of the batteries will improve over that period of time.”