Are vehicle-to-X energy technologies the future? BEIS calls for evidence

United Kingdom

On 20 July 2021, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (“BEIS”) published a consultation calling for evidence about the use of vehicle-to-X energy technologies in the future of the energy system in Great Britain (the “Consultation”). 

The Consultation is an information gathering exercise by BEIS for it to develop a deeper understanding of the current technical landscape, understand the barriers to rolling out the technology and potential business models of the future. It asks broad questions and there are no regulatory or technical proposals.   

Vehicle-to-X

The term ‘vehicle-to-X’ or ‘V2X’ in relation to electric vehicle (“EV”) charging technology refers to ‘vehicle-to-everything’ and is used to describe technology that allows the bidirectional flow of power from an EV back to a system. Technology of bidirectional power flow between a vehicle to the grid has been established through prototypes, and now technology development has moved its focus to enabling the EV battery to export electricity back to other systems, be that a building such as a home (V2H) or a building (V2B) such as a business premises in response to signals from the electricity system. Developing a solution that can export back to the grid or behind the meter is referred to as V2X to capture the wide range of possible systems that the EV could export to (with ‘X’ representing ‘everything’).

An EV with a 12 kWh battery stores as much electrical power as the average family consumes in one day. Therefore, correctly rolling out and encouraging adoption of V2X technology by consumers and industry could have a significant impact on the energy system with a range of benefits. 

Hybrid V2X and smart charging technology can also be applied at a larger scale than on an individual consumer basis. Trial sites are in development that integrate large-scale battery technologies to provide a fast EV charging hub for several vehicles and amenities. Development of such charging hubs are predicted to play a crucial role for en route charging and private fleet charging. The demand on the electric grid by these sites can be lessened by utilising battery technology and the ability to provide fast charging with a large amount of power on demand will be beneficial to EV drivers. 

The benefits of vehicle-to-X

V2X technology goes further than smart charging in enabling the wider network to draw power from an EV battery in response to peaks in demand or other system requirements, such as frequency.

The graph below from the Consultation shows modelling from National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios 2020 that represents the potential impact of unconstrained EV charging on the system as EV uptake increases and the impacts of smart charging and V2X technologies.

vehicle-to-X image

Source: Figure 1 from the Consultation.

Selling power back to the grid, providing system services or using power behind the meter can provide potential savings or a source of revenue for a consumer. The Consultation cites research that V2X technology could offer up to £436 of revenue annually for a consumer that provides vehicle-to-grid services, have their EV plugged-in for 75% of the time and has a solar panel installed.

For the electricity system, V2X could provide an effective network balancing solution by offering distributed battery storage that would complement the grid scale storage that is currently being developed. Balancing and stabilising services are imperative for ensuring system stability and allowing the UK to embrace un-dispatchable, intermittent renewable energy sources.

The challenges of vehicle-to-X rollout

The Consultation notes that V2X technology has remained in the technical trial stage with barriers to wider adoption and rollout. These include high equipment cost and barriers for technology suppliers to participate in highly regulated energy system.

The Consultation outlines the identified barriers to uptake in more detail, which are summarised below:

  1. V2X compatible EVs: currently the vast majority of EVs in the UK are not capable of V2X functionality. A wide range of EVs that are capable of the technology will be required to drive consumer uptake.

  2. High costs: the need for a bidirectional charger with AC to DC conversion technology or having this converter built into the EV increases costs, although these are expected to fall in the future.

  3. V2X protocols: there is not one standard V2X protocol (currently protocols include CHAdeMO and CCS) and they are not interoperable. Therefore, this limits consumers options and limits the technology for public chargepoints.

  4. EV battery health: there is currently technical uncertainty on the impact that V2X activities will have on battery health and have a resulting negative impact on uncertainties on the EV OEM warranties which may dissuade consumers from adopting the technology.

  5. EV plug-in rates: the Consultation cites research that the average domestic car is only in use for 4% of the time. However, the average EV is plugged in for 30% of the time. V2X technology can only be utilised when EVs are plugged-in at a bidirectional charger. Further innovations, roll-out of EV chargers and changing of consumer behaviour will be required to increase plug-in rates to bring about the benefits of V2X technology.

  6. EV availability: consumers’ range-anxiety will be compounded if their EV battery is not sufficiently charged and available when required. Consumers will have to fully understand the proposition and understand the degree to which they can control when the EV is available for export. A user-friendly consumer interface will be key to this.

  7. Electricity market access: V2X has its own strengths and specific requirements (such as the need for aggregators and its reliance on EV plug-in rates) when compared to other storage technologies (such as demand-side response). It should be examined whether markets such as the capacity market contain any barriers in their design for entry by V2X compared to other storage technologies.

  8. Business models: due to low margins, there is currently not a sustainable business model for domestic V2X aggregators. Aggregators for commercial fleets may have an improved business case. A healthy business model is required for domestic consumers to provide V2X services.

Next steps

Industry will welcome proactive steps from BEIS to develop a deeper understanding of V2X technology and its pathway to commercialisation. At this stage, BEIS has not taken a stance on whether it sees a need for regulation in this space. The timing of exploring the technology is of note; if V2X is going to be included in EVs ahead of the 2030 internal combustion engine ban then standards and requirements will have to be implemented quickly.

The Consultation is open for input from relevant stakeholders such as network companies, EV OEMs, energy suppliers, chargepoint operators and flexibility providers until 12 October 2021. Responses can be submitted here.