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Sonnen & TenneT Power German Grid With Electric Cars

TenneT and sonnen have announced that they’ve powered the German grid with electric cars. TenneT is a top electricity network operator in Europe, and sonnen produces and manages stationary battery storage systems. Working together, TenneT tapped into the electricity stored in electric car batteries that are part of the sonnenCommunity. It did so when there were short-term fluctuations in the electricity supply on the grid, using the car batteries to absorb those short-term fluctuations.

These electric cars are joining sonnen’s core virtual power plant network (sonnenVPP). “In addition to their normal everyday use, the cars are becoming an active part of the power grid: the first vehicles in TenneT’s grid area are already integrated into the sonnenVPP and can provide so-called primary control power (FCR),” sonnen writes. Various types of electric cars are included in the program. To participate, the batteries must be adjustable to match load changes and frequency fluctuations within 30 seconds.

Note that there isn’t a lot of back and forth, in and out — the batteries are not being put under harsh conditions. “This is achieved solely via an intelligent charging process, there is no additional wear and tear on the vehicle batteries due to discharging.”

They don’t indicate how many electric vehicle owners are currently in the solarVPP, but they do say that they intend to add another 5,000 electric car households (which must also use the sonnenCharger).

You might think that under this system you could have a problem with TenneT sucking power out of your car when you are going to need your car to be charged. That wouldn’t be very clever, would it? That’s why one of the first steps in the program is to indicate when you will want to use your car. (So, yes, it involves a bit of planning.)

From sonnen’s perspective, this is just the beginning. As technology advances, as EV adoption and battery adoption grow, and as grids evolve, more opportunities are expected.

“We are on the verge of developing a renewable energy ecosystem that can be compared to the dawn of the internet age. Assets that have been operating in isolation until now are networked with each other and thus develop their full potential. The next stage of the energy transition is about ensuring that the energy from solar or wind power is always in the right place at the right time,” says Oliver Koch, CEO of sonnen. “By including electric vehicles in our virtual power plant, we are making one big step by using the charging of electric cars to simultaneously balance supply and demand in the power grid and thus stabilize it. This means that we can already use the enormous storage potential of e-cars today and contribute to being able to switch off fossil-fuel power plants earlier.”

It’s quite common for people to see the growing number of electric cars on the road as a challenge or problem for the grid. (What if they all magically plug in at exactly the same time?!?!) There are indeed issues there to work out and adapt to. However, there are also big potential benefits of electrification for the grid, and normal EV owners.

“With the successful integration of the e-cars from the sonnenCommunity into the virtual power plant, sonnen is leading the way and turning a problem into a solution,” sonnen writes. “As part of sonnen’s virtual power plant, the e-cars can, for example, absorb excess wind power at night so that they do not have to be charged with electricity from gas or coal-fired power plants during the day. All in all, a new, mobile power plant block is created that expands the storage capacity for electricity in a clean energy system and makes fossil power plants even more superfluous.”

It’s a compelling story. How long until virtual power plants are the norm across the Earth, and electric cars, trucks, and SUVs are integral parts of those virtual power plants?

Featured image courtesy of sonnen.

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