Startup Pioneers EV-to-Grid Technology in Pilot at UC San Diego

Nuvve, a San Diego cleantech startup, has begun a pilot project with UC San Diego that is intended to demonstrate the feasibility of using electric vehicles as a kind of collective energy storage reservoir for the power grid.

After securing a $4.2 million grant from the California Energy Commission this week, Nuvve and UC San Diego said the company would install its “vehicle-to-grid” (V2G) charging system in 50 new EV chargers at UC San Diego. The San Diego campus operates its own micro-grid, and often serves as a test bed for innovations in renewable energy.

Nuvve and its partners, which include Nissan, Mitsubishi, BMW, and Hitachi, are providing the additional funding needed to cover the total project cost, which is estimated at $7.9 million. Another partner, San Diego Gas & Electric, has been providing technical services and resources for implementing the pioneering technology, according to Nuvve.

Nuvve (pronounced “nu-vee”) has developed bi-directional EV charging technology that enables electricity to flow either way between the power grid and an EV. Cloud-based software that communicates between the EV, charging station, and grid is used to control the process. V2G technology can be used to draw electricity from EVs that are plugged into charging stations distributed throughout a city or region, Nuvve CEO Gregory Poilasne said in an interview Friday.

With the number of EVs booming—542,000 battery-powered or plug-in hybrid EVs have been sold to date, including 134,000 between November 2015 and 2016—such technology would enable utilities to draw on EV batteries to meet instantaneous-but-transient energy demands, Poilasne said. In this respect, V2G technology helps utilities and grid operators maintain the stability of the electric power transmission and distribution system. EV owners even get paid for the backup power they provide. In Europe, Poilasne said such payments work out to about 1,200 Euros, or roughly $1,350.

The grid operator must be in control of the ebb and flow of the EV charging system, but the infrastructure cost of Nuvve’s technology is “near zero,” Poilasne said. As a result, he added, “All of the ISOs [independent system operators] and TSOs [transmission system operators] are eager to work with us.”

So far, however, Nuvve has been working primarily with state energy regulators and regional grid operators in California and New England to ensure that its technology is compatible, Poilasne said.

Nuvve has rolled out its technology in Denmark, where Poilasne said “we’re in full commercial mode.” But the company has maintained a low profile in San Diego, according to spokeswoman Lynn Ames. That’s chiefly because Nuvve initially had rights to the technology only outside the United States, Poilasne said. The company acquired U.S. rights in late 2016.

Poilasne founded Nuvve in 2010 with CTO Willet Kempton, a senior policy scientist at the University of Delaware’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, and CFO Nish Mehta. The founders, and their friends and family, have provided most of Nuvve’s startup capital, which has amounted to roughly $2 million so far, Poilasne said. Nuvve is now looking for additional financing with strategic partners, he added.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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