Car Industry

Audi Smart Energy Network pilot has EVs assisting the grid

Instead of taxing a local grid, Audi's cars could help bolster it.

Audi

Back when plug-in hybrids were just beginning to appear, there was some concern that adding a whole bunch of cars to the electric grid could overtax it and cause problems. Now, Audi's built a system where its cars do precisely the opposite.

Audi will kick off a new pilot project called Audi Smart Energy Network in both Ingolstadt and Zurich. The program combines stationary storage batteries with differently sized solar installations. Control software distributes the solar energy based on how much it thinks the car or house will need.

The idea is that, by filling both the stationary battery and the car when it does, both those things will be able to contribute juice back to the house when there are differences between how much power is required and how much can be pulled from solar or other renewables. That way, there's less reliance on larger grids.

Pictures of an electrical grid aren't very compelling.

Audi

Not that Audi isn't thinking about larger power grids, too, because it is. Audi's pilot program envisions a time when a bunch of houses are connected up using the Smart Energy Network system, creating a "virtual power plant" as Audi calls it, capable of delivering power across that grid when it's needed.

"We are looking at electric mobility in the context of an overall energy supply system that is increasingly based on renewables," said Dr. Hagen Seifert, Audi's head of sustainable products, in a statement. "We are playing a pioneering role with the prequalification of the balancing-power market -- enabling producers to feed power into the grid, as part of the pilot project. That is now for the first time also possible down at the level of individual households, which helps balance the entire power grid."

The idea of putting cars and stationary batteries into a power grid isn't anything new. Elon Musk has been pushing for a smarter grid in post-Hurriane-Maria Puerto Rico with the installation of solar panels and Powerpack energy storage batteries. In a blog post from 2016, General Motors talked about using electrified vehicles to act as grid stand-ins when renewables won't cut it on their own.

The issue with renewables is that, sometimes, they aren't capable of providing power 24/7 -- the sun isn't always out, nor is the wind always blowing. By storing that power, whether in a stationary battery or one installed in a car, and feeding it back into the grid when demand outpaces supply, we can get around those hiccups. Now, we just have to figure out how to get everyone to sign on to something ambitious like this -- it doesn't do much good if three houses around town are the only ones contributing.