Payback! Two-way charging turns electric cars into money generators

In the not-too-distant future, plug-in cars might not just draw electricity but actually send juice back to the grid, and get paid for it, according to a story in the New York Times.

This form of “electric-car commerce” was announced earlier this month by researchers at the University of Delaware and their regional utilities. “They have developed a system to collect payments for work (balancing supply and demand moment to moment) that is normally the domain of power plants,” the Times reports. “The power now flows two ways between the cars and the electric grid, as the cars inject and suck power in tiny jolts, and get paid for it.”

While most plug-in vehicles sold in the U.S. are not equipped to feed power back to the grid, the potential of using the energy storage capacity of electric cars could be a major factor in bringing down the cost over time. In Japan, Nissan is offering an option that allows consumers to power their houses when the electric grid is down, according to the Times story.

“When the cars work with the grid, they earn about $5 a day, which comes to about $1,800 a year, according to Willett M. Kempton, a professor of electrical engineering and computing,” the story noted. “He hopes that provides an incentive to make electric cars more attractive to consumers, and estimates that the added gadgetry would add about $400 to the cost of a car.”