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Boulder, Colo., Tests 'Bidirectional’ EV Chargers at Rec Center

The novel charging technology allows power to be drawn from vehicles for use within the North Boulder Recreation Center during the day when demand is highest, and charges vehicles overnight.

an electric car plugged into a charger
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
(TNS) — Boulder is testing a new project that will use a bidirectional electric vehicle charging system at the North Boulder Recreation Center to reduce the city's energy load and lower utility costs.

While electric vehicle charging stations typically have a one-way flow from the grid or the building to the car, the Fermata Energy charging station at the recreation center uses two-way electricity from the building to the car and from the car back to the building.

"What this charger does is enable us to pull power out of the battery and use it to provide power to the building," Boulder Energy Strategy Advisor Matt Lehrman said.

The car will charge overnight when demand at the recreation center is low and provide power to the building during the day when demand is higher. The battery retains enough charge to power the fleet vehicle's everyday duties.

Boulder hopes to begin receiving and assessing data from the pilot in early 2021, and it's set to test the program for two years. Because it's a new technology, Lehrman said the city will be looking to see how well it works and what type of financial and operational savings are available. It's possible it would be better if the city was using more cars or if it tried the project on a building with a smaller electrical load, Lehrman said.

The city owns or leases 21 all-electric vehicles in its fleet, according to a news release, and it intends to replace its gasoline and diesel vehicles with electric models when new vehicles are purchased. Boulder City Council in September approved the GoEV City resolution, in which the city, among other things, committed to switching to electric vehicles and experimenting with new technologies such as the Fermata Energy bidirectional charging system.

The partnership comes at no cost to the city, since Fermata Energy offered the charging station to Boulder for free. The main draw, according to CEO and founder David Slutzky, is the company's ability to test its technology on a commercial scale.

"If they can prove that their technology works, they'll be able to share (in the) savings," Lehrman said. "If not, we still get to test the technology. The cost doesn't change for the city."

If all goes well, Slutzky hopes word of the success will spread.

In order to use vehicle-to-grid technology, there are three components. First, one must have a "bidirectionally enabled" vehicle. Right now, that's just a hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander or a Nissan Leaf, which is the vehicle Boulder is using in the pilot.

Additionally, there must be a bidirectional charging system such as the one at the recreation center and software that tracks a building's power load and determines the point of peak usage.

In terms of making the switch to renewable energy, Slutzky said energy storage can be an issue when using solar or wind energy. That's where vehicle-to-grid comes in.

"That's what vehicle-to-grid is all about: changing the auto industry to make electric vehicles cost effective and changing the utility grid to provide massive energy storage in order to enable a transition to renewables," Slutzky said.

It's still a new technology, and Slutzky said the pilot program is what's available for use right now that does not require special permission to test. One day, however, he said it's possible Boulder and other entities could use the same bidirectional concept to provide backup power during emergencies or outages.

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