Electric vehicles are an essential part of decarbonising the transport sector. But it’s not just about eliminating carbon-based fuels. EVs unlock new capabilities that can play an essential role in energy storage, integrating with the grid to help balance demand, reducing the additional grid infrastructure needed and cutting costs for the energy sector.

A study by Element Energy, commissioned by energy companies Enel and Iberdrola, carmaker Renault and the NGO Transport & Environment, examined four European countries (France, Italy, Spain, and the UK) in their models, which examined smart charging, grid support, battery recycling and a second life for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles.

Smart charging

Smart charging involves charging batteries during low-demand times and supplying energy (for consumption, or back into the grid) when demand is higher. By using smart charging in EVs, the report estimates in aggregate, the four countries could save €1.3 billion each year.

There could be 20 million EVs in Europe by 2030 and 100 million by 2040, which require an abundant source of energy to charge their onboard batteries, potentially placing additional demands on the grid infrastructure, at a cost of €14 billion.

Smart charging is an essential part of the electrification of transport. Without smart charging, the energy demands of EVs could paradoxically increase the demand for fossil fuels if batteries were charged at peak times (placing additional demand on the grid). Smart charging not only provides a simple solution, it also opens up the possibilities of EVs to be able to support the grid and balance demand.

EVs are “batteries on wheels” providing a new mode for transporting energy to where it’s needed, that doesn’t involve piping it through power lines.

Julia Poliscanova, clean vehicles and emobility manager at Transport & Environment, said…

“Batteries on wheels can spare Europe’s grids from costly upgrades and allow more renewables to come online faster. All that’s needed is to charge them at the right time of the day, for example during daytime in sunny countries.”

Second life for batteries

EVs are still relatively new but the fleet of EVs being scrapped could be 125,00 in 2030. But it’s not the end of the batteries, which can be recycled, reconditioned, and repurposed. The report estimates that around one-fifth might be recycled to recover valuable minerals.

The report estimates that almost 350,000 EV batteries will have been given a second life:

  • Reporposed 90 per cent will be repurposed for stationary energy storage to support the grid
  • Recondition and reuse 5 per cent will be reconditioned and reused in EVs
  • Research and recycle 5 per cent will be used for other applications such as research, before being recycled.

Repurposed batteries could cost ~$40/kWh in 2030 compared to ~$70/kWh for new batteries.

Sources and further reading:

Batteries on wheels: the role of battery electric cars in the EU power system and beyond (original Element Energy report – pdf)
Batteries On Wheels: In The Future, Electric Cars Can Power Homes (Forbes)