(Re)Start me up: What could the world’s first reuse of electric vehicle batteries as energy storage mean for smart grids?

'Five Chevrolet Volt battery packs combined with an ABB inverter and test software could provide two hours of back-up power for three to five average American homes'

Did you know that, in most cases, when a Chevy Volt EV (electric vehicle) battery reaches the end of its life in an automotive capacity only 30 percent or less of its life will be used? Rather than throw these “spent” batteries onto a landfill or recycle them, General Motors and ABB last year demonstrated how a Chevrolet Volt battery pack could be used to collect energy and feed it back to the power grid to deliver supplemental power to homes or businesses.

Today, ABB and GM take the application past the theoretical. The companies showed the next stage in battery reuse: they showed how five Chevrolet Volt battery packs combined with an ABB inverter and test software could one day provide two hours of back-up power for three to five average American homes. In an on-site demonstration, the energy storage system was run in a “remote power back-up” mode where 100 percent of the power for the facility came from Volt batteries through ABB’s Energy Storage Inverter system. The uninterrupted power supply and grid power balancing system was demonstrated during GM’s Electrification Experience in San Francisco. Duke Energy, the largest power utility in the United States, was on hand to announce that the ABB-GM prototype will be tested on their grid.

The prototype unit provided 25 kW of power and 50 kWh of energy to run all the support lighting and audiovisual equipment in an “off-grid” structure used for the event. Since it is still in research mode, it is too early to tell what applications are technically or financially possible. But possible applications include back-up power to homes or small commercial buildings, storage of power during inexpensive periods for use during expensive peak demand and integration of solar, wind or other renewable power generation.

These functions, along with frequency regulation on electric distribution systems, could someday be used by utilities to reduce cost to customers and improve the quality of power delivery. Car batteries storing surplus renewable energy? Yes. Talk about revving up the grid.


Related articles: Energy storage – why do we need it?


Image credit: General Motors media archive


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  • Ekus

    The positive message is, the battery will outlive your car and will keep serving you in years to come!

    This must be advertised more, especially by car makers. Many people believe they will have to replace the batteries many times thorough the lifetime of their electric car, even though there is no need for that (even smaller previous-gen batteries used in early Prii still don't need replacing!). ABB, too, should stress that this initiative is targeted at cars that reach their end-of-life.

    • Thank you very much for your insight here - it is precisely the kind of input I was hoping for. This is exactly the same preconception about battery life that many have when it comes to grid connected battery energy storage systems. Nowadays, thanks to the vast improvements in battery technology that have been made over the past decade or so (in large part to enable electrical vehicles) we are able to offer battery energy storage systems, up into the tens of megawatts power range, with design lives that meet or even exceed the requirements of utility customers.

      You are absolutely right that we need to stress this!
      Kind regards,Jochen

  • igor2756

    This is very interesting, particularly as a possible addition to the residential or small buisness solar cell installation.
    Those of us who consider installation of solar cells on our houses and/or busineses, and who have done some research on this, very quickly arrive at issues related to availability of power produced by the residential solar cell installation versus when this power is needed the most; the power is needed when people ruturn home in late afternoon and early evening.
    Coincidentally, this is when power produced by the solar installation is reduced due to setting sun.

    Battery based energy storage system will greatly reduce loads on power grids during pick hours. The additional advantage of battery-based storage system is that colar cell installation's output is low voltage DC. I'm not sure what the charging voltage requirements of the battery cells are, but if the system is designed to use the DC output of colar cells directly to charge the batteries, then the complexity (cost) and the losses due to DC/AC conversion can also be greatly reduced.

    • You have hit on a very relevant topic, which is that today we see more and more direct current (DC) technologies, like solar photovoltaics, that need to be integrated into the grid in the most efficient way possible. This can mean integrating with other DC technologies like battery energy storage systems, or it can mean integrating with alternating current (AC) power systems and equipment. In both cases one of the key technologies needed is power electronics and ABB has a full range of power electronics solutions to achieve this, for all voltage ranges. You might be interested to take a look at our DC Power portal which looks at the new possibilities that this technology offers: regards,Jochen

      • Prakash Ayer

        Hi Jochen,

        Above link DC Power portal does not seem to work.


        • Thanks for noticing this. Here's a working link:

  • Jason V

    This is EXACTLY the type of solution that the modern working class person needs. Charge up all day via solar and when we get home in the evening, mostly suffice off the battery, thus lowing consumption, cost and overhead. I've been working on a setup to eventually do this small scale for my saltwater fishtank so that it is standalone from the house and tolerant of grid/weather related issues, which incorporates an ac/dc inverter and marine grade deep cycle batteries. Though the solution being tested here would be a phenomenal idea. Sign me up as a test candidate! Heck, the separate lil utility room where the fuse panel is in my house would be a perfect space for this to be installed! Once it goes to consumer testing, put my name in the hat to be your guinea pig.


  • Eidi

    Great news for the Smart Grid's energy storage and peak shaving long-term goal.
    I'm looking forward to hear more about these practical experiments and hoping that ABB remains a key player at the foremost position on this matter.

  • henning

    What amount of kWh will one battery store (5 batteries stores 2 hours for 3-5 homes), if linear 1 battery stores little less than 2 hrs for one home. If the batteries are connected to a 10kW peak Solar system producing some 50kWh average per day, how long will 1 battery extend supply of power for 1 home. Or. what size system (xx kW peak and yy kWh electricity production) is required for 1 home to be independent on external electric feed? What do ABB project the price of the used Volt batteries to be?

    • wistrade

      You have to remember US Sub's by order need to replace their batteries too, every two years . Many people that are off grid buy those used to do the very thing you are talking about. Many more folks in Hawaii doing off grid living. The price is right according to the people I know