Makin' money.
ShutterstockMakin’ money.

Electric vehicles aren’t just cars that are cleaner to operate than internal combustion dinosaurs. They’re also powerful batteries on wheels. Andthat quality could spur EV owners to buy electricity at night, or operate their own solar panels or wind turbines, and store the excess energy in their cars. Then they could sell that electricity onto the grid from their parked vehicles during the day, when energy prices are highest.

The University of Delaware began working with NRG Energy in late 2011 to try to realize and commercialize that concept. Last week, the project hit a landmark: It has begun selling power from parked EVs into an energy market being developed by wholesale electricity dealer PJM.

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From the New York Times:

A line of Mini Coopers, each attached to the regional power grid by a thick cable plugged in where a gasoline filler pipe used to be, no longer just draws energy. The power now flows two ways between the cars and the electric grid, as the cars inject and suck power in tiny jolts, and get paid for it. …

The possibilities of using electric cars for other purposes are being realized around the globe. Electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet’s plug-in hybrid Volt are generally not sold in the United States with two-way chargers that could feed back into the grid. But Nissan is offering a similar device in Japan that allows consumers to power their houses when the electric grid is down.

In the Delaware project, each car is equipped with some additional circuitry and a battery charger that operates in two directions. When the cars work with the grid, they earn about $5 a day, which comes to about $1,800 a year, according to Willett M. Kempton, a professor of electrical engineering and computing. He hopes that provides an incentive to make electric cars more attractive to consumers, and estimates that the added gadgetry would add about $400 to the cost of a car.

According to a press release, the Delaware project became “an official participant in the PJM’s frequency regulation market” on Feb. 27. “Since then, the project has been selling power services from a fleet of EVs to PJM, whose territory has 60 million people in the 13 mid-Atlantic states.”

The option to sell electricity to the grid from parked cars could be particularly attractive for fleet operators. But the idea would also be expected to spread to personal garages and parking spaces, providing some extra spark for EV marketing efforts.