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24 May 2019

Enel’s eMotorWerks’ subscription approach to grid-scale assets

eMotorWerks has unveiled JuicePlan, a new $19/month subscription service for electric vehicles (EVs), and has launched it in parts of California, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. The service is a backdoor for eMotorWerks, recently acquired by Enel, to become a significant player in grid-scale battery storage and demand-response (DR) in the USA, luring customers in with the promise of easy and cheap EV charging.

eMotorWerks has been plugging away at the EV-charging game for a while, and was evidently attractive enough for Enel to snap it up. With a dual focus on smart city and smart home deployments, the gist of the proposition is the ability to plug in an EV, have it be charged, and also be compensated if the local utility or grid operator wants to use the EV as a grid-balancing asset.

The two approaches have different dynamics, and enough variance that each customer is going to be pursuing the strategy for different objectives. In the home, the user can plug an EV in to be charged overnight, ready for use the next day. This gives eMotorWerks a considerable window to make use of the car – feeding power into the battery to offset the need to charge it through the day, leveraging the lower demand for electricity through the night.

The reverse dynamic is also true, where eMotorWerks acts as the middleman between what is essentially a mobile battery and a sudden demand for more energy from the grid. This is more applicable to microgrid deployments than national ones, but at scale, the fleet of plugged-in EVs could effectively take the role of a gas peaker-plant – providing enough short-term power to avoid firing up a more expensive reserve generation resource.

Of course, the vehicle owners are compensated for the use of their EVs in these schemes, via credits to their accounts. In the new JuicePlan scheme, there’s no upfront down payment, and the first month of service is free, which has been designed to mitigate the large upfront cost of an EV charging system for the home. Sure, you could use a conventional household socket, but that will take a long time. The higher power dedicated chargers allow for much faster charging times, but cost money and need to be professionally wired in.

As such, the subscription service is meant to bypass this potential barrier to adoption, and if the new owner finds that they earn a good chunk of the subscription cost back in credits, then even better.

“There’s a continued need to democratize access to electrified mobility globally. One of the barriers we’ve found to greater adoption is the selection and installation of an EV charging system at home, where the vast majority of vehicle charging takes place today,” said Valery Miftakhov, eMotorWerks CEO and founder. “Our hope is that creating a subscription option for smart charging to existing EV owners or those that are considering an electric vehicle will accelerate EV adoption in the U.S.”

So then, if a subscription approach facilitates greater adoption, then this swells the ranks of EVs hooked up via eMotorWerks hardware, which in turn increases its value to grid operators and utilities. Sure, the subscription-based revenue is better for cashflow stability, but for eMotorWerks, the EVs are a means to an end – becoming a major player in demand-response, storage, and associated grid services.

As utilities embrace more renewable sources of energy generation, they need to have the flexibility to accommodate the fluctuations in output from wind and solar. When there’s a surplus of available power, it has to be put somewhere, and when there’s a deficit, the shortfall has to be found somewhere.

Using the batteries in the EVs to offload in surplus or draw from in deficit is one part of the puzzle, but the other is simply in changing the rate at which the EVs are collectively drawing power from the grid. Being able to turn down this aggregate draw by only a few percent might mean the difference between the utility having to fire up one of its peaker-plants, or pay through the nose for reserves from another energy supplier. This is where the margins for the likes of eMotorWerks are found – to be attractive, they only have to be cheaper than these rather expensive reserves.

The equipment at the heart of JuicePlan is the JuiceBox Pro 40, a charger that can provide 40-amps that can be controlled via WiFi. It features Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa integrations, and is supported by the JuiceNet smartphone application, which allows for remote control. Ideally, this lets users embrace time-of-use fees, scheduling charging for periods when their utility charges less per unit of electricity.

In time, it would make sense for eMotorWerks to take on that function entirely, as part of the service, making it easier to offer the grid services. You can get a sense of how much these services are worth to the company, as the JuiceBox 40 costs $550 if you want to buy it outright, and then you’ll have to pay for the installation. When offered that kind of price difference, the subscription model makes a lot of sense, especially as eMotorWerks can pitch it along the lines of ‘less than the cost of the fuel for your old non-electric car.’

Enel bought eMotorWerks for an undisclosed amount, back in October 2017. In February 2018, the company expanded to Europe, and now the new subscription model is going to pave the way for its expansion outside of the initial launch states in the US. Partnerships with cities and commercial fleet operators are on the cards, as part of this Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) strategy.