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9 August 2019

Vehicle to Grid infrastructure still lags, Nissan hopes to improve

A fresh fruit distributor in London joins ranks with Nissan this week, as both made strides in Vehicle to Grid (V2G) infrastructure progress. However, the installation of the charging networks needed to fuel mass EV adoption still lags behind the demand for EVs, and if expectations for uptake in the next decade hold true, then V2G penetration is going to swiftly become a limiting factor.

Fruit 4 London is a participant in the namesake city’s E-Flex project, which is being led by Cisco. The company is testing how it can use V2G chargers to power its delivery fleet, which services businesses and consumers in the city. The other component of V2G, using the plugged-in cars as generation assets by drawing from the batteries, is also being explored, but perhaps makes more sense in other areas.

“We’ve always wanted to have complete control over our carbon emissions and it’s equally important to the majority of our customers that we are 100 per cent green,” said Gabor Doroghazi, co-founder and CEO, Fruit 4 London. “Through E-Flex, we’re able to reach our sustainability goals and control our costs more efficiently helping our business scale.”

A delivery fleet wants to use its vehicles for as much time as possible, after all, anything less than 100% utilization is essentially a wasted opportunity. There are obvious constraints to this, such as not being able to deliver to customers in the middle of the night, but if you found that you had a dozen trucks doing nothing during the busiest hours of the day, you would look to do something about that inefficiency. That’s either a dozen trucks that you should be putting to use, or a dozen trucks that you shouldn’t have bought in the first place.

The other dynamic in play is that EVs are a lot more range-constrained than their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts, and so you might need to keep vehicles in reserve to take over when a battery is depleted. The V2G element comes in from keeping these reserve vehicles useful – plugged in and available as a grid asset, when they aren’t making deliveries.

But while that’s useful from a utility perspective, it’s awkward from a logistics one. Moving drivers between vehicles, or the loads between vehicles, mid-shift is complex from a planning perspective. It can be solved by having the drivers return to base and jump into a fully charged and freshly loaded truck, leaving the original to be recharged, but this necessitates having the base facilities to be stocked up with the appropriate charging equipment.

This conflicts slightly with the conventional idea of V2G; of a distributed network of charging points that can support ad-hoc and dynamic participation in the charging grid. In that model, cars can be hooked up while parked on the street, or at the shopping center or office complex, with charging racks and streetlights with hookups populating a city to make charging the car as easy as possible.

However, this vision is not forthcoming. Most EVs are charged at home, but not all homes have off-street parking or the guarantee of parking close enough outside the home for the power cable to reach. Letterbox adapters that let people pop the cable through the front door are now a thing, and car enthusiast forums are full of pictures of the awkward lengths that EV owners are going to, to try and hook their cars up to their outlets.

Car parks are perhaps the best option for accommodating these EVs, with quick-chargers installed in the bays that will let the car park owners become grid-assets and provide a value-add service to those that are using the car parks. However, the idea of owning a car that you have no guarantee of charging at your own home sounds very unappealing, and resorting to visiting retail outlets in order to recharge it is not a great solution.

As the world moves towards 100% EV penetration, and the eventual demise of the ICE, it seems unlikely at this rate that there are going to be enough charging points to support all those cars. Nissan, one of the most prominent suppliers, has only managed to install 2,000 charging stations in the US, on the back of its partnership with EVgo that was signed back in 2013.

The pair made the news this week after announcing that they would be installing another 200 units in the US, with the 100 KW chargers having both the CHAdeMO and CCS connectors that should ensure compatibility. Nissan’s adding of CCS is notable, as it had always favored CHAdeMO.

The expansion is intended to support the new Leaf e+ model, which is due to go on sale in early 2020. Using a 62 KWh battery, it claims a 226-mile range that is just a little under the 238-miles of the Chevy bolt and Tesla’s new Model 3 that has a 240-mile range.

With the new car will come a new marketing campaign, in which the pair say they are going to stress the advantages of the EV over ICE. Range anxiety is still a concern that is going to affect those with long commutes, customers who will need to be able to recharge perhaps every two days to remain confident. This is not a problem for those who can simply plug in at home, but such a restriction would prevent those living in apartments, MDUs, or congested streets, from being easily addressable targets for the new EV.

“Given the tremendous driver response to the 2019 long-range all-electric LEAF, Nissan and EVgo will accelerate fast charging by committing to a multi-year charger construction program that will continue to expand fast-charging options for EV drivers across the country,” Aditya Jairaj, director, EV Sales and Marketing, Nissan North America said in a statement.