Electric vehicles

Montreal-based dcbel is one startup helping homeowners use EVs as backup power

Charging companies and automakers are planning to bring bidirectional charging to more households.
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· 3 min read

It could prove difficult to convince EV owners to sell energy back to electric utilities for a few cents at a time, but using a car battery as back-up power for a home seems like a no-brainer.

While pilot programs for vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology are beginning to pop up in several states, vehicle-to-home (V2H) applications seem poised to gain traction more quickly.

Montreal-based startup dcbel is one example of the companies leading the…charge…on this effort. It offers a faster at-home EV-charging system that is capable of discharging energy back to the home in the case of a power outage. The company, which has raised more than $40 million since its founding in 2015, also uses AI to manage energy usage and can be installed with solar panels, resulting in cost savings and CO2 reduction.

Dcbel’s AI analysis shows that in the vast majority of cases, it’s “more useful” to use energy stored in an EV battery in the home than to send it back to the grid, Marc-André Forget, CEO of dcbel, told Emerging Tech Brew.

“[A] car is the second-largest investment for any family after [a] home. It sits on our driveway for 90% of the time, so we need to leverage that energy,” he said.

Dcbel is entering the US market this year. The company is already taking reservations from customers in California, Texas, and New York—states that have historically experienced blackouts or hurricane-related outages—for deliveries later in 2022, Forget said. Dcbel plans to be in all 50 states, as well as the UK and France, by late 2023.

Wallbox also unveiled a charger capable of V2H in early 2022, and Ford offers a bidirectional charging system that enables the Ford 150 Lightning to provide backup power.

Clash of the currents

Even without the complications that come with trying to coordinate individual EV batteries with a utility-controlled power grid, there are still some technical hurdles to widespread V2H adoption.

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One issue stems from a 19th-century debate: electrical currents.

Batteries use direct-current (DC) electricity. Homes and the power grid use alternating-current (AC) electricity.

Typically, hardware inside an EV converts AC power from the home to DC power for the battery, allowing for at-home charging. To enable V2H, separate hardware has to be installed to convert that DC electricity back to AC in order for the car’s battery to power the house.

Dcbel’s charging system is able to do both, making it possible for any EV to be bidirectional, Forget said. Not all EVs are capable of bidirectional charging today, but it’s a standard that the industry appears to be moving toward. The Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Ford F150 Lightning already enable bidirectional charging, and automakers including Volvo, GM, Volkswagen, Rivian, and Lucid have said they are working on the technology for future EVs. Other EVs on the road now could potentially be made bidirectional with a software update.

“We can expect that all new car generations starting in 2023 and above will also be—just like the [Nissan] Leaf—bidirectional by default,” Forget said.

As the number of EVs on the roads and parked at homes increases, this capability could rapidly gain traction as a tool for household energy management.

“I think the future of home-energy stations—that V2G, V2H—that’s going to go very quick,”  Forget said. “Now it’s time for homeowners to really understand that there’s tools for them to take back the control of energy. They can reduce their energy costs. They can have a lower carbon footprint.”

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