German automaker Audi, part of the Volkswagen Group, looks determined to go one up on rival automakers regarding PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles). Once electric vehicles were unleashed into the market, there was a great concern that adding more demand from the overtaxed electric grid would create a large imbalance between supply and demand.
However, Audi’s new pilot project, christened the Audi Smart Energy Network, looks geared toward reversing the situation. Instead of overtaxing the larger electric grids, the project aims to minimize the use of the grid by creating what it calls a ‘virtual power plant’ – where homes with or without EV car owners will not only draw but also feed power into the electric grids and contribute towards a balance in overall consumption.
The pilot project, for the time being, is restricted to the cities of Ingolstadt, Germany and Zurich, Switzerland. The program is a joint venture of Audi, which is based in Ingolstadt and the startup Ampard, which is based in Zurich. Ampard provides the controlling software which will channel, or discharge power based on demand of the moment.
As for if and when the pilot will expand to other areas depends most of all on how successful the project proves to be on its first run. Needless to say, consumers need to warm up to the idea to make it a success. If only a handful of households subscribe to the idea, it would not be effective, and the project may have to be shelved.
Many hope that it will be a success because a virtual power station project such as this can help reduce our carbon footprint. In a statement made by Audi’s Head of Sustainable Products, Dr. Hagen Seifert, the company makes it clear that it is looking at greater mobility for electric vehicles and for greater electric mobility in general, but in the context of a holistic energy supply infrastructure which will rely increasingly on renewable sources of energy in the future.
With solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, the key problem is the lack of consistency in the production of electricity, which is why energy storage is an important factor when it comes to these alternative sources of energy. Here is where the powerful stationary storage batteries, that play a crucial part in this Audi pilot project, can be of great help, as long as everything goes according to the plan.
The Audi trial is still the first to test these ideas in a larger context as well as in a more thorough manner. It is important to note, too, that batteries of most electric vehicles at present are not equipped to feed power back off to the grid. But VW is already working extensively on making smarter batteries and it appears that they have plans to venture beyond selling automobiles and create a special brand for their high-technology, space age batteries. So, from the business point of view, the project makes a lot of sense.
Residents of the United States, however, must note that regulations in the U.S. regarding discharging power back into the grid from EV batteries are still somewhat fuzzy and until these regulations are made clearer, those who live in the U. S. will have to wait for the latest EV technologies pioneered by Audi and VW Group.
Hillside Imports will keep you posted on the latest technology coming from Audi and Volkswagen, so stay tuned!