As the adoption of electric vehicles grows, so does the potential to create microgrids that can unlock energy alternatives for businesses and communities, essentially turning parking lots into small power plants.

Today, most businesses and homeowners rely on large power plants, sometimes 50 to 100 miles away, to provide the energy they need for day-to-day operations. However, renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels combined with battery storage systems, could reduce the reliance on traditional energy sources. This change would allow businesses, factories and homeowners associations to create microgrids that can provide back-up power and offset our reliance on energy from the grid.

The adoption and use of light-, medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles (EVs) in both corporate and personal settings could produce just the right scenario to create these microgrids. This, in turn, will unlock the potential for increased energy reliability and lower energy costs.

The energy storage inherent in EV batteries, combined with other distributed energy resources (DERs), such as solar panels, could be an untapped energy source for businesses, utilities and residential communities. By installing electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) that allows for bidirectional power flow, the energy in the batteries can be used while the vehicles are parked.

Common parking lots could allow companies to offset their energy use by encouraging their employees to allow the business to use energy from their EVs while they work. Or, during a grid outage, a factory or even homeowners association could “island” itself from the grid and use EVs for backup power. Utility companies could shave peak load by taking advantage of local EVSE and offering to buy back or take back some of the energy when EVs are not in use.

Under these scenarios, what used to be a traditional parking lot can become a local energy source. Integrating numerous parked EVs into a microgrid is an innovative solution that could benefit utilities, businesses or small community groups. While the adoption and use of EVs would need to substantially grow to let this become a viable energy resource, this reality may not be too far in the future, considering current vehicle electrification trends.

Joshua Loyd is a consultant in grid modernization and distribution planning at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. He has experience in implementation and construction of private SCADA communication networks for utilities and has supported engineering and construction projects for electric vehicle supply equipment, such as DC fast chargers. Additionally, Joshua has experience in analyzing electrification impacts for both light- and heavy-duty vehicles. He has a Bachelor of Science in electrical and electronics engineering from Kansas State University.