By Mark Huffman

September 24, 2009
Some might say driving an electric car is its own reward, smiling as you glide silently past gas station after gas station. But in the tiny state of Delaware, driving an electric car now brings an additional reward from the state government.

A newly signed law makes Delaware the first entity in the world to reward owners of electric cars with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology for plugging in. The state, of course, has an ulterior motive. Vehicle-to-grid technology is a home grown advancement, pioneered at the University of Delaware.

Scientists say V2G vehicles work like an electrical sponge, capable of absorbing excess energy when demand for power is low, and returning some back to the electric grid when the demand for power is high. The new law lets people take advantage of this ability by requiring owners providing V2G services be "net metered," meaning they only pay for the net amount of electricity they draw. Owners will now be compensated for electricity sent back to the grid at the same rate they pay for electricity used to charge the battery.

The bill was signed into law by Delaware Governor Jack A. Markell this week at an event that included the delivery of two electric vehicles to customers in Delaware. The vehicles were delivered by AutoPort, a New Castle, Del. automotive processing and modification facility. One is the first electric vehicle assembled in the state.

The new law also sets inspection and safety requirements like those for home solar power and small wind generators. While the vehicles do not generate electricity like solar panels or wind turbines, their ability to provide electricity when needed means at times V2G customers meters will actually run backwards.

The vehicles will help make the electric grid more efficient, cleaner, and more economical, said V2G pioneer Willett Kempton, a professor in the University of Delawares College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

"This technology improves the electric system by providing balancing power via storage that would otherwise require burning fossil fuels to produce," he said.

Kempton is a member of UD's Center for Carbon-free Power Integration, which is credited with founding the concept of V2G and continues to lead research on its development and adoption. Studying under Kempton, marine policy master's student Scott Baker played a major role in the law's development by providing much-needed background information to legislators.

Earlier this year, the Delaware Economic Development Office issued a green-collar training award to AutoPort Inc. in New Castle, Del., which is in the process of making its first V2G vehicle. Delmarva Power and Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation Inc., Delaware utility companies affected by the legislation, were supportive of the new law.

"We are excited about the potential electric vehicles bring to our nation and with our deployment of advanced meters we look forward to continuing to find innovative rate structures that support the development of this technology and making Delaware a leader in the nation in doing so," said Delmarva Power Region President Gary Stockbridge.

In January, the city of Newark, Delaware, became the first electric utility in the nation to approve electrical "interconnect" for a V2G vehicle to store and provide power for the local electric grid. In June Delmarva Power did the same. UD researchers plan to have a fleet of six vehicles in operation by the end of 2009.