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Plugging end-of-life EV batteries into the grid could ease renewables transition

Study says this would give old power units years of useful life once unsuitable for cars

EV batteries could help meet short-term electricity grid storage demand by as early as 2030 in most parts of the world, scientists are claiming.

Their study – which depends on new data and modeling – also found that end-of-life EV batteries could find a new purpose in helping smooth out domestic demand on an electricity grid increasingly dependent on renewable energy supply.

Chengjian Xu, PhD candidate at the Netherlands' Leiden University, and collaborators showed both in-use and end-of-vehicle-life phases with a technical capacity of 32-62 terawatt-hours by 2050. Even low participation of between 12 percent and 43 percent among the public could provide useful for short-term grid storage demand globally.

"Short-term grid storage demand could be met as early as 2030 across most regions. Our estimates are generally conservative and offer a lower bound of future opportunities," the paper, published in Nature Communications this week, states.

While renewable energy is a growing part of grid supply, it can be variable, particularly in the case of wind and solar. While there are options to mitigate the problem, "demand-side management is also vital in shifting and flattening peak demand," the paper said.

EV batteries can be used while in the vehicle via vehicle-to-grid technology, or after the end of vehicle life, the researchers argued.

"When the remaining battery capacity drops to between 70-80 percent of the original capacity, batteries generally become unsuitable for use in EVs. However, these batteries at vehicle end of life may still have years of useful life in less demanding stationary energy storage applications and represent substantial value to the grid," the study said.

As well as smoothing out demand, plugging EV batteries into the grid could also help reduce the capital costs and material-related emissions associated with additional storage, the researchers pointed out.

Although the potential of EV batteries to aid grid storage has been studied before, earlier research rarely looked at battery degradation and the impact of battery chemistry. Driving intensity by vehicle type in different countries and likely consumer participation were also left unexamined.

Equipped with data on these topics and using three new data models, the researchers said they found EV batteries could promote electricity grid stability via storage solutions from vehicle-to-grid and second-use applications.

"Within this model framework, this study provides a more complete understanding of the energy storage capacity available from EV batteries over time in real-world conditions and use. Results reveal a substantial opportunity for EV battery storage to support the stability and flexibility of renewable energy transition, even under modest consumer participation rates. To harness this opportunity, regulations and innovative business models will be needed to incentivize participation," the study said.

The analysis of extending the life and value of EV batteries will come as little comfort to UK workers laid off from battery startup Britishvolt, which collapsed into administration this week. Although the company had planned to build a giant factory – and create about 3,000 skilled jobs – to make electric car batteries in Blyth, Northumberland, it failed to become profitable and suffered a terminal cash shortage. ®

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