Old electric car batteries can be reused on the power grid

Conclusions of a two-year research project show that the batteries in electric vehicles on the road today could find a new life down the road in the power grid.

The typical car owner might trade in her new car after six years. However, the batteries of old electric cars still have up to 70% capacity after nearly a decade. New techniques being tested by ABB and GM may give these old batteries a new life on the power grid.

The batteries would be useful in supporting renewable energy integration with the grid.

Solar and wind power are intermittent, meaning that when the sun shines strongly more energy might be generated than is needed. Having a way to store this energy means that solar power generated today doesn’t have to be used right away. It could be saved for a rainy day.

Electric vehicle batteries could also be used during power outages, or periods when the power grid struggles to meet demand. They might be used to bring emergency power to homes in case of a blackout or when emergency power is needed.

The conclusions of a two-year study using Volt battery cells by ABB and GM were announced today. The companies built a prototype system for 25-kilowatt/50-kWh applications, about the same power consumption of five U.S. homes.

The system could store excess energy from solar or wind in the reused car batteries, then feed the power back into the grid during times of peak demand. Thirty-three Chevy Volt batteries could also power as many as 50 homes for an hour in an emergency.

The market for electric cars still represents only a fraction of the total automotive industry. But EVs are steadily gaining popularity. The International Energy Agency predicts that there could be 20 million EVs on the road by 2020—in other words, six percent of all cars.

With so many more electric cars on the road, reusing the battery would increase the overall value and green credentials of the car. It might also give a boost to the renewable energy market.

Image credit: Argonne National Laboratory

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About the author

Hans Streng

I am Head of ABB's electric vehicle infrastructure unit.
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