Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) research must move beyond batteries and computers

Electric mobility and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) research is too orientated on technical challenges, and not on social, economic, and political challenges, say a team of international researchers led by CIED Director Benjamin Sovacool.

New research conducted by the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, Simon Fraser University in Canada, Aarhus University in Denmark, and the University of Delaware in the United States suggests that the research community at large remains wedded to an overly narrow approach.  The role of consumer acceptance and driver behavior are neglected by most studies and there has been almost no attention paid to the need for institutional capacity and policy coordination.

Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) refers to efforts to link the electric power system and the transportation system in ways that can improve the sustainability and security of both. Technically, the figure below shows how a V2G configuration means that personal automobiles have the opportunity to become not only vehicles, but mobile, self-contained resources that can manage power flow and displace the need for electric utility infrastructure. They could even begin to sell services back to the grid and/or store large amounts of energy from renewable and distributed sources of supply such as wind and solar.

Visual depiction of a Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) network

V2G
Source: Willett Kempton

 

A transition to V2G could enable vehicles to simultaneously improve the efficiency (and profitability) of electricity grids, reduce greenhouse gas emissions for transport, accommodate low-carbon sources of energy, and reap cost savings for owners, drivers, and other users.

Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool, who lead the research explained:

Although a vehicle-to-grid transition has much to offer society, less is understood about how those benefits are distributed, especially among vulnerable groups. We need to ensure future forms of electric mobility are not only low-carbon, but just and equitable.”

Their research has recently been published in two articles, a research agenda presented in Annual Review of Environment and Resources and a critical and systematic review in Environmental Research Letters.

Jonn Axsen, co-author of the studies and CIED visiting fellow from Simon Fraser University said:

The vast majority of studies simply assume that consumers will go along and behave as the system tells them to. Clearly that is unrealistic. We need to better understand people, what cars they want to buy, and what it would take for them to be comfortable in letting someone else control the charging of their electric vehicle.”

The authors argue for a broadening of focus to at least eight other areas:

  • environmental performance
  • financing and business models
  • user behavior
  • natural resource use
  • visions and narratives
  • social justice concerns
  • gender norms
  • urban resilience

Dr. Lance Noel, a co-author of the studies, emphasized:

Vehicle-to-grid clearly has the potential to provide a wide variety of benefits to society.  However, because the majority of studies focus on technical and economic benefits of vehicle-to-grid, many of the other societal benefits, such as environmental and health benefits, are under-studied and require further research.”

Ultimately, the authors conclude that research gaps need to be addressed if V2G, and vehicle-grid integration more broadly, is to achieve the societal transition its advocates seek.

Further reading:

The full studies – “The Future Promise of Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Integration: A Sociotechnical Review and Research Agenda” and “The neglected social dimensions to a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) transition: A critical and systematic review“—are available in the October Volume of Annual Review of Environment and Resources and in press at Environmental Research Letters.

Read more about CIED’s research on urban transport and smart freight mobility.

Citations:

Sovacool, BK, L Noel, J Axsen, and W Kempton. “The Neglected Social Dimensions to a Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Transition: A critical and systematic review,” Environmental Research Letters (in press, January 2018).

Sovacool, BK, J Axsen, and W Kempton. “The Future Promise of Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Integration: A Sociotechnical Review and Research Agenda,” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 42 (October, 2017), pp. 377-406.