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Your car as a cash machine

Electric Car

Electric cars at UD's STAR Campus don't just take power from the grid. Now they can give power back to the grid and get paid for it.

UD Electric Vehicle-to-Grid

Celebrating a major milestone in giving power back to the grid.

It's no longer a one-way street for the plug-in.

With a test fleet of 15 Mini-Coopers, University of Delaware researchers have proven that all-electric vehicles don't just plug in to take power from the grid, now they can give power back and get paid for it.

UD celebrated this world first at the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus on April 26. Each car currently averages $5 a day, or about $1,800 per year.

Since February, UD's Mini-Cooper fleet has been connected with PJM, a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity over 13 states and the District of Columbia, an area of 60 million people.

UD invented and holds four patents on the technology that enables an electric car to plug in and sell battery storage back to the grid, as an official participant in PJM's frequency regulation market. As demands for electricity fluctuate, large generators ramp up and down quickly to balance electricity supply and demand.

"Our cars provide that same balancing service," says Willett Kempton, professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE), research director for the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration and inventor of the grid-integrating technology.

"Our system responds faster, is less expensive to operate and it does not burn fuel or create pollution. The batteries are storage devices, so we can take off excess electricity, and we can push electricity back when there is not enough," he explains.

Kempton's vision for grid-integrated vehicles began in 1997 when he and a graduate student published a paper about the technology. After doing much of the initial development himself, Kempton realized that his plan bridging three industries—automotive, energy and electronics—needed more than academic publications to become a reality. It required a campaign that included gaining support from the state legislature, changing public policies and building partnerships—lots of them.

UD's Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) worked closely with the Office of General Counsel to help form a partnership with NRG, one of the nation's largest retail electricity businesses.

"Working with a university was new for NRG," said Scott Fisher, the company's director of alternative energy sources. "Our partnership with UD has been a very positive experience. We have been given access to cutting-edge technology; highly capable, motivated students and faculty; and an administration committed to forming successful relationships with companies like ours."

BMW AG provided the vehicles and sent a senior technician from Munich, Germany, to live in Delaware and support the project.

PJM adapted its rules to allow energy storage technologies to participate in the market; automobile retrofitter AutoPort Inc. fitted the standard production vehicles with the grid-integrating technology; and Milbank Manufacturing Company built the charging stations to required specifications.

CEOE's School of Marine Science and Policy helped advance public policy changes, and the electrical engineering department developed the electronics that perform the vehicle-to-grid technology functions.

How far down the road before the technology is available to you? Kempton is now working with three global automakers who are developing vehicles compatible with the technology. A 2011 study by Pike Research estimates that 100,000 cars will be able to return power to the grid by 2017.