Woman next to charging station

Give and take.

Soon, parked electric vehicles are to be used as flexible electricity storage devices. In this way, they will do more than just make optimal use of green energy. They can help put some money into their owners’ pockets.

An electric vehicle can do more than “just” provide a means for sustainable and convenient mobility. It can even reap some benefits when it is stationary. It simply needs to be connected to the electricity grid where it will not just be charged. In future, the vehicle will be able to feed electricity back into the public grid to alleviate bottlenecks.

The innovative and unique “Bidirectional Charging Management – BCM” research project is currently exploring secure and convenient technologies that can be offered to drivers of electric vehicles in the future. Various companies and institutions from the automotive and energy industries as well as the world of science are participating in this venture under the leadership of the BMW Group. The planned duration of the research project under the aegis of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is three years and it is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy.

“Using a holistic approach, we are aiming to interlink vehicles, charging infrastructure and power grids for the first time in a way that facilitates the widest possible use of renewable energy through bidirectional charging and at the same time increase security of supply”, explains Xaver Pfab, project manager at the BMW Group.

For BMW drivers this means that they will be able to use their electric vehicle as a smart storage device for green electricity in the future. In favourable weather conditions, wind and solar power plants already frequently produce significantly more electricity than can be consumed at a particular point in time; at other times there is less electricity from renewable sources available than is needed. This volatility presents a challenge for the system operators and leads to a number of problems in the energy supply. However, soon electric vehicles may not just be able to charge their high-voltage battery with green electricity, in particular when a lot of it is produced, they can also feed the power back into the grid unless it is needed for driving at that time. For example, when the wind is not blowing or during the night. However, the backfeeding process will only take place once it has been established that the battery will be charged fully again when the driver needs the vehicle. Drivers of electric vehicles should also benefit personally from allowing their batteries to be charged and discharged as described. Those customers may receive, for example, direct payments or charge their vehicles at reduced rates. The various options in this regard are also being explored in detail as part of the research project.

It is planned to equip the first 50 BMW i3 with the bidirectional charging technology with backfeeding capability in less than one year from today in order to test its benefits under real-life conditions. However, until then, the scientists, researchers and engineers of the consortium will still need to overcome a number of obstacles. In addition to charging stations with the necessary capabilities, vehicle technology, charging hardware, charging management and communication interfaces with system operators and energy suppliers must be modified or implemented and the legal framework conditions clarified.

Here, the BMW Group can draw on its experience from previous projects. In a further pilot project in Germany, the BMW Group is currently testing the charging of electric vehicles during times when sufficient amounts of green electricity are fed into the grid. And in California the BMW Group has also already been very successfully piloting smart, demand-driven and power grid-oriented charging management with 300 electric vehicles for several years.