Duke Energy to test new uses for old EV batteries


Duke Energy, partnering with General Motors and power technology company ABB, will test whether used electric-vehicle batteries can find new purpose on the electric grid.

Lithium-ion batteries often have 70 percent or more of their useful life when they’re no longer usable in electric vehicles, GM says. GM and ABB began work two years ago on ways to reuse their energy storage.

A demonstration Wednesday in San Francisco gave a hint. Five used Chevrolet Volt battery packs were repackaged into a unit that could power three to five average homes for two hours.

Duke envisions battery systems smoothing out the sudden swings in output from solar photovoltaic systems, said senior project manager Dan Sowder, helping the grid work more efficiently.

Duke will install a five-battery system on its grid somewhere in its six-state territory, Sowder said, ideally at a business or home with a rooftop solar system. The location hasn’t been identified.

While prototypes have been tested, Sowder said, “the leap here is that we’re going out to the real live electrical grid.” Duke is also testing other energy-storage technologies across its territory.

The companies see other potential benefits from EV batteries.

As the San Francisco demonstration showed, batteries could supply emergency power during power outages. They could also be charged at night, when electric rates are lowest, and their energy released to the grid during peak demand times.

New uses would also give old batteries new value, reducing the effective cost of owning EVs. GM expects to have 500,000 vehicles with some form of electrification on the road by 2017, implying a healthy market for recyclable batteries.

ABB’s research center in Raleigh has conducted research and development while its Lake Mary, Fla., unit is doing further testing, market research and product development.

ABB’s North American headquarters is in Cary. The company employs more than 1,600 people in North Carolina, including 100 at a cable-making plant it opened this year in Huntersville.

By Bruce Henderson, Charlotte Observer