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GM, Ford join "Virtual Power Plant" initiative to turn customers' EV batteries into electric grid heroes

Michigan is preparing its infrastructure for an EV revolution
A charged electric vehicle can also put electricity back onto the grid when needed.

General Motors and Ford Motor Company are joining an effort that will encourage their electric vehicle customers to help the electric grid become greener and more reliable.

The initiative involves developing so-called Virtual Power Plants.

During times of high electricity demand, a virtual power plant transfers the stored energy from a large number of people's EV batteries, smart home batteries, and solar panels to the grid to meet high demand.

The virtual plants also enroll people who agree to reduce their electricity use when needed.

This can prevent blackouts and reduce emissions by avoiding the building of new power plants.

Mark Dyson is a managing director with the Carbon-Free Electricity Program at RMI, a non profit dedicated to transforming global energy systems.

"EV batteries can behave together just like a very large battery on the power system," he said. "And we've already seen now that big batteries have helped us avoid blackouts, big batteries have helped us avoid building transmission lines in other parts of the country."

Dyson said a virtual power plant helped prevent a catastrophic blackout in California last summer.

And, it helped the participating customers' pocketbooks.

"A record-breaking, multi-day heat wave brought the grid to almost a point of failure five days in a row," Dyston said. "Customers who were able to flex the demand of their air conditioner, or who were able to use their battery in their garage to send power back to the grid — they actually made a lot of money."

Dyson said virtual power plants will be in wide use across the country in 10 years. He said federal money from the Inflation Reduction Act should speed up their adoption.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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