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Building backup power from a Chevy Volt used battery pack

-November 19, 2012

When Steve Evanczuk did a teardown on the Chevy Volt battery stack management system on EDN and Brian Fuller drove the Volt around the US in 2011/12, I’ll bet they never imagined that those spent batteries could provide backup power to buildings in neighborhoods to guard against power outages like we had on the East Coast over the last two weeks!

National Geographic reported about the “Second Life for Old Electric-Car Batteries: Guardians of the Electric Grid”. The idea was developed by General Motors and ABB, one of the world's largest electric-technology companies, and features five lithium-ion battery packs from plug-in hybrid Volts, strung together in a new arrangement and cooled by air instead of the liquid used in stock Volt.

The batteries are degraded below acceptable performance levels for cars, but the companies say the batteries have enough life to serve the grid for at least ten years in this device, a community energy storage unit. [Community energy storage (CES) places a fleet of small batteries along the electric power distribution system. The batteries charge at night when power from the grid is available and discharge energy as needed to enhance power quality and reliability or improve the utility load profile.]

Image courtesy of General Motors

Deployed on the grid, community energy storage devices could help utilities integrate highly variable, and sometimes unpredictable, renewables like solar and wind into the power supply, while absorbing spikes in demand from electric-car charging. It still remains to be seen if this will be a viable solution. Many more tests must be completed, but the idea is a clever one and holds promise. It may even stir other creative minds to improve upon the initial scheme.

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