EV batteries as Backup Power Sources
08Nov, 23 November 8, 2023
  • By evcharger

Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly popular as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional gas-powered vehicles. However, most EVs still require large, expensive lithium-ion battery packs to achieve adequate driving range. An innovative solution is emerging that repurposes EV batteries once they can no longer meet the demands of the road. These used batteries are converted into backup energy storage systems that can provide electricity to homes and buildings during power outages.

Repurposing EV batteries brings substantial benefits on multiple fronts. From an environmental perspective, it extends the functional lifespan of the batteries, keeping them out of landfills. Economically, it allows building owners to reduce energy costs by storing electricity when rates are low and tapping into reserves when rates spike. Technically, the large capacity of EV batteries makes them ideal for providing backup power and grid stabilization services. 

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of how V2H technology works, its cost, benefits, current adoption, limitations and the future outlook for using EV batteries as backup power sources.

What is V2H Technology?

Vehicle-to-home (V2H) technology enables electric vehicles to power homes by transferring stored energy from their batteries bidirectionally. A compatible bidirectional charger, energy meter, and electrical components allow two-way power flow between the EV battery and the home. The energy meter monitors electricity usage from the grid and signals the charger to discharge power from the EV battery to offset grid consumption. This V2H setup can lessen energy bills by utilizing off-peak power rates, provide backup power during outages, and increase self-sufficiency when paired with solar panels.

How V2H Technology Works?

V2H, along with the similar vehicle-to-load (V2L) technology, enables bidirectional charging between an EV’s battery pack and a home or electrical grid. This allows electricity to flow both into the EV to charge it, and out of the EV to power connected loads. Here are the key components needed for V2H systems:

  • Bidirectional Charger

The bidirectional charger allows electricity to flow both into and out of the EV battery. New EVs like the Ford F-150 Lightning have bidirectional chargers, while aftermarket units can retrofit existing EVs.

  • Inverter

The inverter converts the DC current from the EV battery to AC, allowing the electricity to power home appliances and electronics. Integrated inverters are inside the vehicle, whereas external inverters are installed between the car and the house.

  • Management System

The management system optimizes electricity flow between the EV battery, home battery (if present), solar panels, and main electrical panel. It efficiently routes power during normal use and back-up situations.

  • Electrical Panel Connection

The electric vehicle’s battery is directly connected to the home’s electrical wiring system, usually through a 240-volt outlet installed for that purpose. In the event of a power outage from the main electric grid, the EV will automatically supply electricity to the home to power important appliances like the refrigerator, lights, and any medical equipment.

Intelligent control software prevents the EV’s battery from being drained below a minimum charge level. Once utility power is restored on the grid, the EV stops acting as the home’s backup power source and resumes its standard charging process from the restored grid connection. This allows the EV to provide temporary yet critical backup power to the home during outages.

How an EV battery can power your home?

Electric vehicles like the Ford F-150 Lightning and Hyundai Ioniq 5 have large battery packs. These big batteries allow the vehicles to power homes during an outage using a technology called vehicle-to-home or V2H. It works by allowing electricity to flow from the vehicle battery to the home electrical system. This bidirectional flow is enabled by a special bidirectional charger installed in the EV.

During an outage, the bidirectional charger automatically kicks in. It connects the EV battery to the home’s electrical panel. Then the EV begins supplying power to critical loads in the home like lights, appliances, and devices. Smart controls in the EV and home monitor battery levels. They prevent the vehicle from depleting its battery below a safe threshold. This ensures the EV has enough charge left to drive after powering the home.

With V2H, homeowners get reliable backup power from the EV without needing a separate home battery system. The large EV batteries can power most essential needs for multiple days. However, some upgrades to the home’s wiring may be required first. It needs to be able to safely handle the high loads from the EV battery. Frequent use of V2H for backup power over long periods may also impact battery life over many years of cycling.

As more EVs add the ability for bidirectional charging, their batteries present an opportunity. Hence, vehicles can serve as valuable energy storage assets not just for homes but also for utilities during blackouts or peak demand times.

Benefits of Using EVs as Backup Power Sources

Transforming EVs into backup power sources via V2H systems offers several advantages over conventional solutions like diesel generators:

  • Clean and Quiet Power: An EV provides emissions-free electricity silently, without the noise and fumes produced by fossil fuel generators. This is especially important when running a backup generator indoors due to weather conditions.
  • Power for Days: Modern EVs have battery packs with capacities from 50-130 kWh. For comparison, the average US home uses about 30 kWh of electricity per day. So a fully charged EV can meet a home’s needs for multiple days during an extended outage.
  • Leverages an Underutilized Asset: Most personal vehicles sit parked and unused over 90% of the time. V2H takes advantage of that unused energy storage capacity to provide backup power or grid services.
  • Avoids Additional Home Battery Cost: EV batteries can provide backup power without homeowners needing to purchase a separate home battery system like a Tesla Powerwall. The EV battery effectively serves as the backup battery.
  • Solar Power Integration: V2H systems allow an EV to store surplus solar energy during the day, and supply that power to the home at night. The EV battery enhances a home’s ability to leverage rooftop solar panels.

V2H Technology Adoption

V2H capability is starting to gain traction as more EVs and equipment support bidirectional charging:

Automaker Support: Ford, Hyundai, and Kia now sell several EV models touting V2H readiness using their native bidirectional chargers. GM plans to add V2H to its Ultium EV platform.

Aftermarket Options: Companies like Fermata Energy and Wallbox offer aftermarket bidirectional chargers and power management systems to add V2H to existing EVs like the Tesla Model 3.

Smart Charging: Charging networks like Electrify America are developing smart bidirectional chargers located in public and workplaces to expand V2H benefits.

Utility Pilots: Utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and others have launched V2H pilot programs to evaluate benefits and work through policy issues.

Growing Interest: Google Trends shows consumer interest in “vehicle-to-home” has grown 

significantly over the past two years as V2H capability is commercialized.

Potential costs of using an EV battery as a backup power resource:

Converting an electric vehicle into a home backup power source via vehicle-to-home (V2H) technology comes with some significant upfront costs. To enable bidirectional charging, an EV typically needs an upgraded bidirectional charger which can cost $2,000-$4,000. Electrical upgrades to the home’s wiring and panel to handle the high loads may cost several thousand dollars more. 

There are also ongoing costs – frequent discharging of the EV battery through V2H will likely degrade battery life faster, necessitating more frequent and expensive battery replacements. However, V2H can still provide backup power at a lower overall cost than purchasing a dedicated home battery storage system. 

For example, the Ford F-150 Lightning’s 98 kWh battery can provide over 3 days of home backup for around $50,000 – much less than buying an equivalent 70-90 kWh of Tesla Powerwall capacity for $15,000-$20,000. While the economics are still evolving, using an EV battery for V2H can potentially provide backup power at a competitive cost if the electrical upgrades are manageable.

Future Outlook

V2H technology is projected to expand in capability and adoption in the coming years through several pathways:

Mainstream Adoption

Major EV manufacturers like GM, Tesla, and Nissan plan to add native V2H functionality to future models. This will greatly increase the number of V2H-capable vehicles as EV sales grow exponentially.

Daily Power Shaving

As V2H becomes widespread, EVs will start providing daily power to homes to help reduce peak demand on the electric grid, rather than just for backup.

Power Trading

With aggregated groups of vehicles, V2H could allow EVs to sell power back to utilities during periods of high electricity demand.

Emergency Response

The ability of EVs to power critical facilities like shelters and emergency response hubs will make them an important disaster preparedness resource.

Smart Grid Integration´╗┐

Large fleets of V2H-enabled EVs will serve as a valuable grid asset that utilities can use to balance supply and demand as renewable energy penetration increases.

Challenges and Limitations

There are some challenges and limitations to overcome with V2H systems:

EV Compatibility: So far, only a subset of new EVs like the Ford F-150 Lightning and Hyundai Ioniq 5, have native bidirectional charging capabilities. Aftermarket solutions are available to add V2H to other EVs, but are an added cost.

Electrical Upgrades: To handle the high loads involved, Homes often need to upgrade electrical panels, wiring, and outlets to enable V2H. These upgrades can cost several thousand dollars.

Battery Life Impacts: Frequent battery cycling from V2H may negatively impact EV battery life over time. However, automated control systems can limit this by maintaining optimal state of charge levels.

Utility Policy: Widespread V2H adoption requires enabling policies from utilities. Rules about EVs supplying power back to the grid, two-way metering, and compensation are still evolving.

Limited Availability: V2H is still a niche offering with low consumer awareness. Only a handful of EV models currently offer native bidirectional charging needed for V2H.

Conclusion

Vehicle-to-home technology is likely to transform EVs from transportation into powerful clean energy resources. As more EVs gain native bidirectional charging capabilities, they will increasingly serve homes and the grid as backup power supplies, distributed storage, and virtual power plants. Realizing the full potential of V2H will require automakers, utilities, regulators, and other stakeholders to work together to develop policies, incentives, rates, and infrastructure to enable and accelerate adoption. With robust V2H systems, EVs will not only redefine personal mobility, but also energy resilience and sustainability.