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Though some people argue electric vehicles (EVs) aren't as good for the environment as advertized, one thing is for certain: the automotive industry is going electric.
In fact, a recent study that claimed diesel is cleaner for the environment than electric was roundly criticized for misrepresenting the data on EVs.
What's more, EVs present other benefits besides cleaner emissions. One of these is bidirectional charging. Here are some of the ways this technology will change how we use energy.
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What is bidirectional charging?
As its name suggests, bidirectional chargers allow electricity to travel both ways. EV owners can charge their cars using the traditional unidirectional (one-way) method, or they can use bidirectional chargers to send electricity back the other way through vehicle-to-grid (V2G) energy transfer.
Bidirectional chargers are becoming an increasingly popular option, with companies like Wallbox, and Virta providing their own models for the market.
Wallbox created the "first bidirectional charger for your home." Virta, meanwhile, recently opened a public bidirectional EV charging point that is connected to a solar power plant in Finland.
An emergency energy source
Why would you want to send electricity from your vehicle back into a power source you might ask? There are several reasons. Firstly, it allows you to store energy in the case of an emergency.
Last week, Elon Musk unveiled Tesla's Cybertruck, a car that looks like it was designed for a Mad Max-style apocalyptic future. Memes aside, research by Climate Central indicates that blackouts brought on by storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires have doubled since 2003.
EVs aren't only being built as a means to reduce CO2 emissions, they're also being developed as a tool that aids in self-sustainability. Solar technology and bidirectional charging will likely form a big part of this as traditional energy consumption is overturned in the face of climate change.
Essentially, bidirectional charging allows your car to double up as a moving battery pack. The electricity that is transferred into your car is no longer confined to your vehicle until it is used. Excess electricity can be stored in your car and then transferred back into your home when it's really needed.
This could be especially helpful in the case of natural disasters or blackouts. In fact, countries that are especially prone to outages are encouraging EV owners to go bidirectional.
Take Japan, where Nissan is promoting the use of EVs as an energy source in the case of a natural disaster.
The same principle turns electric vehicles into a key element of a self-sufficient home. An EV doubling up as a storage unit for electricity means that EV owners can optimize their energy use.
"The batteries of electric cars provide enough storage to power a home for four days or more," Wallbox CEO Enric Asunción told Interesting Engineering via email.
"Having this storage available as an extension of the grid opens up new possibilities. We will be able to store clean energy - the energy that has been generated from renewable resources - and use it when we need it," Asunción explained.
Excess energy — from solar panels for example — can be stored in a car and saved for another day. It can be stored for a specific time when you know you will be using a lot of energy.
Several schemes worldwide are encouraging this type of efficient energy use. For example, the Brooklyn Micro-grid, a New York-based energy marketplace for renewable, resident-produced energy. This community-focused initiative allows grid users to sell energy to their neighbors using blockchain.
The bidirectional charger will likely be a crucial part of this type of initiative, as will the electric vehicles they are attached to. Imagine a future where a large part of a country's energy is produced at people's homes and used as a means for trade. That brings us to the last point.
Make money from V2G
EV owners with bidirectional chargers can even make money by selling excess power back to the grid via V2G charging. Any energy, be it electricity gathered from solar panels or unused electricity, can be sold straight back to the grid.
In countries that charge lower prices during off-peak hours, owners can even charge their car batteries at a lower price before selling the electricity for a profit during peak hours.
According to a study published by MDPI, Quantifying the Societal Benefits of Electric Vehicles, EV owners could make up to €400 a year through V2G charging, and around €3700 over a car's lifetime.
Nuuve Corporation, a San Diego-based green energy technology company is already testing 30 electric vehicles in Denmark for frequency regulation. The MDPI study estimates that EV owners will be able to earn up to €9,000 over their car's lifetime via frequency regulation.
More perks are likely to be offered as the grid becomes increasingly strained in the future, with renewables and electricity pushed over fossil fuels.
The Netherlands is already planning a public bidirectional charger network. “These charging stations are the future,” State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven told Electrive.
“They relieve the electricity grid, use green energy better and make charging your car even cheaper. That is why I want to speed up its construction.”
Electric vehicles are cheaper to run and maintain than vehicles running on internal combustion engines, and they will only continue to get cheaper.
Thanks to bidirectional charging, EV owners will be able to make money from their cars at the same time as using them as a powerful energy storage unit. The technology allows car owners to have more control over their energy and help the environment while they're at it.