The power of bi-directional EV charging, with Emporia Energy

The power of bi-directional EV charging, with Emporia Energy

Bi-directional charging has massive potential to be a game-changer in the EV world. It provides consumers an affordable way to store excess energy generation and reuse it on demand whenever they want. A driver can fill his or her car battery during the day when the sun is out and reuse it in the evening during peak hours, when electricity is more expensive. Or, the driver can fill up the car battery in the middle of the night when electricity demand is low and energy is cheap.

The problem is that today bi-directional charging technology is typically expensive and not easy for consumers to install – but this is where companies like Emporia Energy come in, working to develop a simple, affordable option for consumers and fleets alike.

“With any great innovation, it takes a merger of several technologies, policies, rules, laws to converge at once. The iPhone didn’t just magically appear. We had to have strong cellular and WiFi and battery capacity for the iPhone to work. It’s similar here,” says Shawn McLaughlin, founder and CEO of Emporia Energy.

On this episode of The Amped EV Podcast, we sit down with Shawn to ask questions like:

  • Can you give us a bit of background on Emporia Energy and the reason you’re adding bi-directional charging to your power management ecosystem? Why did you decide to partner with BREK on this initiative?
  • Can you explain bi-directional charging to me like I’m 5? What does it mean and how does it work?
  • Bi-directional charging seems like it should be a no-brainer. Why isn’t this capability more common?
  • How can bi-directional charging be used successfully by fleets running electric trucks?
  • Do you believe bi-directional charging will become the standard in the future to help reduce pressure on the grid?
  • Do you think bi-directional charging has room to evolve?

Watch above to hear Shawn’s answers to these questions and more.

Here’s a transcript from the show:

David: We’ve got a fun one today.

Jason: I know. I’m amped. Yeah.

David: Ah, yes. I am also amped. This is really cool. We’ve talked before about how fleets might want to in the future, if they are running electric vehicles, send the driver home with the vehicle. Charge it at home, bring it back, over and over again. Well, what if you could also power your home from the battery of that electric vehicle?

Jason: Yeah. Okay.

David: Yeah.

Jason: Well, what if I could do that as a consumer?

David: That’s right.

Jason: If I want to buy a car, an electric car, and I want to do that just as a consumer. It’s just sitting there. I’m not going anywhere during the weekend. I got kids. We’re not going anywhere. It’s cold, or at least it might not be when this thing launches. It’s cold right now.

David: Well, that’s what we’re talking about today and we’ve got a great guest. His name is Shawn McLaughlin. He is the CEO of Emporia Energy and he says that not only can you possibly charge your home using that vehicle’s battery, you might actually even come out, you might net ahead.

Jason: Yes. This is what I want. Yeah, we should probably learn more.

David: Let’s do that. Let’s get to the interview.

David: Shawn, thank you very much for joining us today on the podcast. Really appreciate you being here. Let’s start with letting us know, give us the background on Emporia Energy and why you decided to partner with BREK Electronics on adding bidirectional charging to what you have to offer.

Shawn: Yeah, absolutely, David. But first of all, thank you so much for having me on the show and to steal a line or borrow a line from Jason, I’m amped to be here. Excited to be here. Very amped. I heard you say that on a episode recently. I’m so amped and happy to share with your customers some of the exciting things we’re doing at Emporia. So, a little bit of background. The company, it was launched in 2018. I myself have a long history of being a commodities marketer and trader in the energy space. Specialize really in North America, and back as far as 2015, I really started studying the energy transition full time and put together a small team to help me and what our research led us is to two really business thesis or possible business opportunities.

Shawn: The first one was that there’s some really great energy management systems for large commercial and industrial buildings, but there wasn’t one on the market that really fit the bill for small commercial and residential. You know what I mean? Fit the bill, the average utility bill in the United States is $120 a month. And you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a building management system that takes a professional install to try and reduce that bill by 20 or 30%. Just a return on investment’s not there. The second thesis we came across was that bidirectional EV charging is going to be an absolutely game changer for distribute renewable generation and the entire energy transition.

Shawn: We all know that distribute renewable generation has a lot of great benefits, but the biggest downside is it’s not always available when you need it. Wonderful when the wind’s blowing or the sun’s shining, but when it’s a cloudy day, or the sun goes down, you have to go right back to the grid. And today, the grid is balancing all of that distribute renewable generation, and a lot of cases, for free. They have net metering, which is a one-to-one transition. And those that do not have solar are compensating or subsidizing those that do.

Shawn: And what bidirectional EV charging does, is it provides us an affordable way for those who are producing their own energy to store that excess generation and reuse it on demand when they want. So we can fill your car during the day when the sun is out and reuse it at night during those peak hours, when you’re cooking and cleaning and washing. And if you don’t have distributed renewable, we can fill it up at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, when demand is really low and energy’s cheap. So it really pulls into play distributed renewable, makes it economical and gets away from this problem of those with solar being subsidized from those without.

Jason: Right. For sure. Okay. So let’s take just a quick step back, because this is new to me too and I’m sure to a lot of the audience. Can you just give us a layman’s terms, what is bidirectional charging and how common is this? Honestly, this is probably one of the first times that I’m hearing about the term, so just give us an overview and then how common is this kind of a thing?

Shawn: We’re building for a future that’s yet to come. So when you talk about how common is it today, it’s not. And so the whole idea, again, around bidirectional charging, if you think about any of your home devices that take a battery to operate, you’re pulling power from the grid through your house and charging your device. Power’s going really one way. Bidirectional, what we’re talking about is ability, [to] then pull that power back out of your device or back out of that battery in your device, into your home, and then eventually all the way back into the grid so you can send power both directions, i.e., bidirectional. That’s the whole concept. There’s been several pilot programs and some early rollout of the technology. Really around the CHAdeMO interconnect.

Shawn: So here in North America, we are adopting the J 1772 plug that you actually use to charge a car. Over in parts of Asia, they’re using the CHAdeMO plug, and CHAdeMO has been around a little bit longer and has had a chance to develop. And with it, the Nissan Leaf has given bidirectional capability. And so you can actually build a bidirectional charger, plug it into a Nissan Leaf today and pull power from that car. But it’s really been limited to that CHAdeMO plug and the limiting factor with the J 1772 is actually the communication protocol that goes along with that plug. That communication protocol, not to get too technical here, is ISO 15118-20, and it is now in final draft form. And, that means that all the technical specs of it have been locked in and we’re just waiting for final editing before it gets fully released.

Shawn: But with the final draft being published, we can now start developing on it. So car manufacturers, companies like ourselves, we are now building around this communication protocol that will allow us to communicate with one another and tell the car when and how much to discharge and the car can tell us how much battery capacity it has available and what rate it can discharge. So that communication protocol has really been the limiting factor and is just now, again, being released, so we’re going to all start working on it. And, I think by the second half of this year, you’re going to start see, slowly, the rollout of this technology in North America using that J 1772 and CCS combo plug.

David: Very cool.

Shawn: Is that… I think you said make it real simple and I made it really hard, so I don’t know how that went.

Jason: No. Real quick, if I can, because a couple things stood out to me there. It’s more than just, on the surface, it’s more than just charging, right? So you mentioned the Leaf. On the OEM level, they have to enable this on their hardware, and then there’s the plug component. The plug has to be able to have the connection and be able to do this as well, and then that third part, the protocol, is like the conversation between it all to make it all happen. Did I get that right?

Shawn: Correct. And the hardware has been pretty well vetted out, especially on the car side. UL has got a… Not a formally published, but again, a draft in getting ready to publish, certification process for the charger side that we can build to those specs. So this is new, we’re all building to these specs now and working on bringing this to market. So hardware is pretty well the last piece, that communication protocol, is really what we’ve been waiting on.

David: Hmm.

Jason: I see.

David: Okay. So this kind of technology almost seems like a no-brainer to me. Why hasn’t this come sooner? What has been the biggest issue for companies like yourselves in developing this kind of thing? I know you mentioned the protocol of course, but is this something that we can expect to see in much greater volume?

Shawn: Yeah. I mean, great question. With any great innovation, it takes a merger of several technologies, several, if you will, sometimes policies, rules, laws to converge at once. The iPhone didn’t just magically appear. We had to have strong cellular and WiFi and battery capacity for the iPhone to work. It’s similar here. So we’re waiting for multiple technologies to converge. Obviously, the widespread adoption of electric vehicles is a big one. Innovators aren’t going to spend a lot of money on non-reoccurring engineering if there’s not a market for the product. And so that’s been a timing thing. When is that adoption going to take place? I think, secondly, it’s the battery technology. And so when you look at, even today, but for sure prior to today, the limitations around battery technology was such that the car manufacturers really wanted to preserve that battery for the use of the car.

Shawn: And what’s happening now is battery technology continues to improve, the car manufacturers are starting to say, okay, we can open this up now. The homeowners can use the battery for more than the car and we believe soon, by the middle of this decade, there will be batteries that are manufactured, let’s call it the million-mile battery. The useful life of that battery is going to way outlive the useful life of the car, and so why not use that battery technology? You spend a lot of money for it. It’s sitting in your garage or your parking lot 95% of the time. So, that’s been a big thing, too. Waiting for battery technology to really emerge. Waiting for EV penetration to get high enough that it warrants the investment. And, then the third piece of this is more on the grid and the home side.

Shawn: I mean, small things, like smart home energy tech, is a big thing, but fourth quarter 2222, which is really the order that says, if you can aggregate up 20 megawatts of distributed energy resources in a given market zone, you will, someday, be able to access the grid as a virtual power plant. Well, that’s a big deal for this type of technology. So, that’s where policy plays into effect that finally kicks it off. It’s really not just one thing. It’s multiple things. Now, again, when you’re looking down, it’s this communication protocol, but when you back up, it’s been several things that we’ve needed to come together to enable this technology.

Jason: Right. For sure. And to your point, I think we’ve seen a little bit of that. Even on the marketing side with the Ford F-150 Lightning, where they are using it as a generator power application in the commercials. Even moving into some of the applications, you think construction sites. They run a lot of power tools and charging up power tools too, so being able to use that battery. Right now in the commercial world, fleets are starting to invest in infrastructure, are starting to put infrastructure in. Electric truck orders are open.

Jason: How I build, lay the groundwork now, so that I can leverage bidirectional charging? What can I keep an eye on to make sure that I don’t put myself into a situation where I’m not going to be able to leverage this kind of thing if I’ve got an application… if I’m running school buses and they just sit all day and I can keep energy, then provide energy. Any tips for what I’m building out today and what I should be looking for?

Shawn: No, I mean, it starts with just what you said, is looking at the fleet, looking at those school buses and make sure you’re thinking ahead. Again, building for a future that’s yet to come, but you know that your fleet is going to last at least five years, give or take, depending on which kind of fleet you’re running, could be much higher, but let’s say it’s five years. Well, in five years, we believe that this technology, we will be mature enough, it’ll be a common place and there’ll be a great deal of opportunity for fleet managers to not only save a lot of money on the cost of fueling, but generate additional revenue through offering those grid services. And, so think about that when you’re picking your fleet today and choosing a fleet that will enable or give you the ability to add bidirectional charging when it’s ready. I think that’s number one.

Shawn: When you’re looking at your charging infrastructure, there’s some thought process to go in there, too. It’s an early technology and if you’re putting your fleet in place today, you’re going to need to put in some basic charging systems, singular direction charging systems. But, as you install those, start thinking about when I change these out to bidirectional, if I’m in my electrical panel now, what will I need later? And, so, that’ll be a sub-panel that’s going to be able to run critical load and that will allow you to switch off the grid when there’s a power outage, so your facilities can be grid isolated and run during blackouts. And so just thinking about, Hey, if I’m going to have the electrician out building this infrastructure, let’s prepare it for bidirectional charging. And then when the bidirectional charges are available, it’s not going to be a prohibited price to just change out the charger. The soft cost of the infrastructure, and obviously the hard cost of the vehicle, are already be in place. Then we’re just talking about changing out the charger, and that will be relatively cost effective, especially when you look at the revenue potential off of your fleet.

Jason: Right. For sure.

David: Mm. So having said that, we’re talking about the grid, we’re talking about preparing your infrastructure ahead of time for this kind of technology. Do you see bidirectional charging becoming more of a standard, almost necessity, going into the future for, especially these fleets, but even at home too, and then having said that, where do you feel like is the room for this technology to evolve?

Shawn: Yeah. Yeah. Great question. Necessity might be a little bit strong. I definitely don’t think we’ll get to the point where that’s the case. I think that for us to really achieve a sustainable grid that is economical, if you will, for all, it is necessary. At a global level, if you’re really going to enable distribute renewable generation, you’re going to need to put a lot of battery capacity on the market. And putting fixed battery stations in, even at the grid level, it’s just frankly, way too expensive. When you can connect these vehicles who have enormous batteries, relatively speaking, to what the home power usage is, and the cost of that battery is completely underwritten through the purchase of the car, you can access that battery for just the cost of the bidirectional charger.

Shawn: We plan on retailing our bidirectional charger for $1,500 and it’s 11 and a half kilowatt. Ample amount of power to run the critical loads and more in the vast majority of the homes in the United States, for $1,500. If you’re going to put a home battery system in, you’re talking about 10 times that or more. $15,000. And so this is a necessity when you look at long term, building a sustainable grid. Now, if you’re looking more at an individual fleet, not necessarily. You’re going to be able to run an EV fleet. You’re going to be able to use just traditional level two or level three charging to charge that fleet, and that’s going to be it.

Shawn: If you decide to adapt bidirectional charging, you’re going to really be able to lower the cost of the fuel in your fleet, because the first thing is what we call behind the meter energy management opportunities, and across the country, utilities rolling out more and more demand charges, which is being charged the peak usage throughout the month, instead of what you actually use. And they’re doing time of use. And so price’s are going to be three or four times higher during peak hours versus off peak hours. And so if you think about having a bidirectional fleet and you come back, you bring your fleet in back at the end of the work day, you plug it in and you can run your facilities during those peak hours off of your fleet. And then you can recharge that fleet in the middle of the night when energy prices are low and inexpensive and there’s not a lot of demand. Well, again, you’re lowering those peak hours, which is the primary energy use is hours, three, four times cheaper, 30% of the cost. And that’s going to lower your utility bill 30 or 40%, maybe even higher, depending on how you consume energy.

Shawn: So those are the opportunities that would be presented to them. Think about the light-duty trucks that go home with your employees so much. How are you going to charge those? You’re going to ask your employees to spend money on charging that car for you and you’re going to reverse some part of their electric bill? Well, how about sending them home with a bidirectional charger, and everyone’s a winner, because when they come home and plug that car in, we’ll run their house off of that car, we’ll charge it at night after the peak hours are over, they’ll be full every morning and the homeowner will actually be net positive. They’ll make money doing this. They’ll have less of a utility bill charging their truck then without it. Does that make sense? The savings they’ll get by avoiding those peak charges will more than offset the cost of charging that car in off peak. So now, as a fleet manager, you’re giving a benefit to your employee and you’re spending zero money to fuel your car, or fuel your fleet. So it’s just those types of opportunities will exist for those really forward-thinking fleet managers.

David: Hmm. Yeah. This is some cool technology. I’m learning a lot about this. Shawn, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate you being here. This is cool. I can’t wait to learn more about this.

Shawn: Oh, well, we really appreciate being on the show and wish you guys the best of luck moving forward and hopefully as we bring our product to market, we can do this again and talk about real-world cases.

David: I’d love to. Thank you.

Shawn: All right gentlemen, thank you so much.

David: Take care. Okay. Shawn McLaughlin. That was a great interview. I learned a lot from that one.

Jason: Yeah. Very cool. One of the things I thought about too while he was talking there that might be something that on the commercial consideration side is, and it takes some dependability off of the grid. So fleets are… I mean, we saw it was a year ago or maybe a little more now of the Texas power grid going down and people being out of power forever. I mean, trucks still need to make deliveries. They still need to get where they’re going and an emergency situation, they need to be able to deliver those supplies. So having, even if you could use part of your fleet, the power, the rest of your fleet in an emergency situation like that, you’re just not as dependent on the grid. You have a little bit of wiggle room there, or even just using the batteries if you have a solar operation. One of the big things with solar is, well, where does that power go? How do you store it? So if it’s in the vehicles, then you can use those vehicles. I don’t know. Something there. Very cool.

David: It’s very cool. One of the biggest anti-EV comments I hear all the time is what-

Jason: Boo.

David: Well, I mean…

Jason: Boo. Sorry.

David: No, no. I hear it all the time, and it’s for a good reason. I mean, what do you do when everybody’s got an electric vehicle? How is the grid going to handle something like that? And, with this type of technology, it’s just one more step in the right direction I feel like, to take some of that pressure off the grid as EVs get more popular and guide us into the future, so to speak.

Jason: Yeah, for sure. And the importance of the software to be able to handle that kind of thing. I know that Shawn had mentioned some of the charges, the peak charges that utilities can feel like from the fleet perspective, they could spring on you during the demand charges. And just anything you can do to avoid that, so you add the bidirectional charging capability and you’re… For better, I always love a pun, so insulating yourself from unexpected costs. Got it. So yeah.

David: No, it makes perfect sense. That’s a lot of fun. I look forward to catching up with him down the road to see where this technology’s going.

Jason: For sure.

David: Cool. Well, thanks everybody for joining us today for another fantastic episode of the Amped EV Podcast. We’ll catch you next time.

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