plugging in an EV outside a house

Duke Energy recently announced that it wants to use EV batteries from Ford F-150 Lightning pickup trucks (F-150s) to help power the grid by utilizing “vehicle-to-grid” technology. This pilot program in North Carolina will partner with people leasing F-150s. It will gather data for possibly creating a permanent program.

Tapping in to EV Bidirectional Charging Capabilities

Some electric vehicles are designed to use electricity from their batteries to power specific loads. They can even power homes, businesses, other cars, or the electrical grid. This concept is known as bidirectional charging and involves drawing electricity from the grid to charge the electric vehicle’s battery and also supplying electricity from the battery as needed for other uses.

Certain electric vehicles have some types of bidirectional charging abilities, including the Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Ioniq, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, and the Ford F-150 Lightning. In addition, several automakers have announced they are releasing vehicles with bidirectional abilities, including Ford, Hyundai, Lucid, and Tesla. Also, as EVs advance, the capacity of the batteries is increasing, so they can supply more electricity.

For example, the F-150 Lightning extended range battery system has a 131 kWh battery. The average home uses about 30 kWh of electricity daily, so the F-150 battery has enough capacity to power a house for several days.

However, homes need a device to integrate the F-150 battery with the home’s electrical system. The F-150 Lightning also features electrical outlets, and people can plug in loads directly as well. When supplying power to the grid, the Duke Energy pilot program requires drivers to opt-in to participate and for the pickup to be plugged into an EV charger to supply power.

“Ford’s electric vehicles are unlocking new possibilities in energy management for our customers, becoming valuable energy storage sources that are changing the game on the benefits an EV can deliver,” said Steven Croley, chief policy officer and general counsel, Ford Motor Company. “Alongside Duke Energy and our mutual customers, we’re working to fine-tune and expand these capabilities that will not only power their lives, but also accelerate the development of a less carbon-intensive grid.”

Can Vehicle-to-Grid Technology Encourage Renewable Energy Use?

Being able to use the energy in an EV’s battery to power other things has numerous advantages for EV drivers and utility companies. In fact, EVs could eventually help decarbonize the power grid.

Solar and wind energy are intermittent power sources, so they don’t generate energy when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. The grid must supply adequate power 24/7, yet there are times of day when electricity consumption soars. For example, electricity use usually climbs on summer afternoons and evenings when residents crank the air conditioning.

However, this increased demand doesn’t always correspond with renewable energy production, so “peaker power plants,” often fueled by natural gas, are brought online to meet the rise in demand. More storage capacity is needed for renewable energy to provide a larger and larger percentage of the energy mix, reducing or eliminating the need to power up peaker power plants.

Therefore, EVs can potentially promote power grid reliability and flexibility as more renewables come online because they can help regulate the grid and reduce the need to power up natural gas power plants to meet peak energy demand. Vehicle-to-grid technology also enables EV drivers to be part of the clean energy transition by offering storage capacity to benefit the electrical grid.

Is Power From EV Batteries Greener?

Unfortunately, using power from EV batteries isn’t necessarily more sustainable. For vehicle-to-grid technology to decarbonize the grid, power companies need to increasingly source renewable energy and other forms of clean energy. Otherwise, the additional battery capacity merely makes the grid more flexible and adaptive but not inherently more sustainable.

Duke Energy has set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, but the timelines are relatively sluggish. “Duke Energy is executing an aggressive clean energy strategy to create a smarter energy future for its customers and communities – with goals of at least a 50% carbon reduction by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The company is a top U.S. renewable energy provider, on track to operate or purchase 16,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2025.”

However, many scientists warn that net-zero emissions by 2050 is “too little too late” and call for net negative strategies. By contrast, Pacific Gas & Electric recently announced a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.

Yet, Duke Energy is also promoting innovation by partnering with F-150 Lightning pickup drivers to launch a pilot program. The learning from this project can help enable successful programs in the future and promote collaboration with EV drivers, furthering innovation. Although power from EV batteries isn’t inherently green, it helps build the energy storage capacity needed to bring more renewable energy sources online.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.