June Article Gm Modular Ultium Battery Platform Courtesy Gm

Second-life EV Batteries Poised to Rock the Power Delivery System

May 28, 2021
Logically, converting end-of-life EV Li-ion batteries into second-life batteries is a good business decision.

Have you ever wondered about what will be done with the growing mountain of used electric vehicle (EV) lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries? For the past decade, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of EVs on the road, and it appears this is only the tip of the iceberg (see April 2021 “Charging Ahead’s” Getting The Grid Ready). The important fact here is those EVs have been around long enough that an increasing number of owners are beginning battery replacements.

Typically, EV manufacturers recommend replacing EV batteries when they are around eight years old or hit 100,000 miles of operation. At that point, Li-ion batteries have lost about 20% of their capacity and start having problems with their load-cycle. There is, however, still 80% of their capacity remaining that some experts refer to as unrealized value left on the table. If all the projections for EV growth are accurate, it’s expected that over 6 million Li-ion battery packs will be replaced every year by 2030.

That represents a lot of valuable stranded energy storage capacity, which could change the power grid dramatically. Rather than disposing of these Li-ion batteries, let’s concentrate on the repurposing approach. It’s the most sensible approach for the global economy with today’s emphasis on sustainability. There are several options available, but salvaging these retired batteries for alternative power roles will have the greatest impact to the grid.

Second-Life Battery

Logically, converting end-of-life EV Li-ion batteries into second-life batteries is a good business decision. This is especially true when we know that these EV batteries still have about 80% of their original capacity. Heck, our more tech savvy customers have recognized this treasure a long time ago. They have been buying discarded EV batteries on eBay since they became available. These hobbyist have reclaimed them for use in many different types of DYI applications, so it makes sense for the business to do likewise.

The marketing research company, IDTechEX, published an interesting report, “Second-life EV Batteries 2020 - 2030,” in 2020. The IDTechEX  report said that by 2030 the global second-life battery EV capacity will hit over 275 GWh (gigawatt-hour). The report went on to say, “Major OEMs and energy storage companies have launched various pilot and business initiatives to explore second-life applications for used electric vehicle batteries.”

Is there actually a potential market for all of these second-life Li-ion battery packs on the grid? The short answer is yes. Our customers are very aware of the benefits of stationary energy storage in their lives. It’s reminiscent of the early days of photovoltaic (PV) rooftop solar. Utilities and regulators spent untold hours discussing the merits of rooftop PV panels while our customers installed solar arrays by the megawatts (MW).  

A Different Approach

There is another factor - the growing support from EV manufacturers. They are responsible for disposing end-of-life batteries in most jurisdictions and second-life applications are part of that scheme. They call it the circular supply chain for EV batteries and have been developing different power applications for these second-life energy sources. Lucid Motors has designed the battery packs in their luxury EVs for two lives and is working on a protype of a 300 kilowatt-hour stationary energy storage system.

When GM introduced their new modular Ultium battery pack last year they said their Ultium pack was also designed with second-life applications in mind and is working on battery reuse products. Nissan’s circular supply chain commitment goes back to 2010 when they partnered with Sumitomo Corp. setting up 4R Energy Corp.

4R Energy estimates that the LEAF batteries have a second-life lifespan of about 10 to 15 years. 4R Energy started one project several years ago using second-life batteries combined with solar panels to power streetlights. The streetlights run off-the-grid, which requires no cables or outlets.  Another 4R Energy project is utilized at a solar farm on the manmade island of Yumeshima. The solar farm uses 16 LEAF Li-ion second-life EV batteries to cope with energy fluctuations and store the solar farm’s energy output.

One unique energy storage project was started at the Johan Cruiff Arena in 2018 in Amsterdam. The project is a collaboration between the Johan Cruiff Arena, Eaton, Nissan, BAM, a Dutch construction services company, and an electric mobility services provider The Mobility House. It is one of Europe’s largest microgrids using a hybrid first-life and second-life (about 42%) EV battery system in a commercial building.

The 3 MW/2.8 MWh (megawatt-hour) hybrid storage system consists of the equivalent of 148 Nissan LEAF batteries (63 second-life and 85 first-life batteries). The hybrid energy storage system is integrated with a 1 MW rooftop solar array and 15 EV charging stations that can add power back into the arena making it truly a multipurpose system.


There is one application that has more potential impact to the grid and utilities than all the rest. It is focused on converting rooftop solar arrays into microgrids. Keep in mind, there are a lot of commercial and industrial (C&I) facilities not to mention residential customers that have existing PV panels. What if only a significant percentage of these solar arrays became microgrids or nanogrids? It would be a major gamechanger for both sides of the meter.

This appears to be an area of interest for a lot of vendors and suppliers. They can provide all the permits and install a complete microgrid or convert an existing solar array into one. The commonality is the second-life stationary energy storage component. The C&I and residential customers have an affordable choice with this plug and play approach. It’s a one-stop process. The existing solar arrays are integrated into the energy storage system and are supplied with the digital controls, power inverters, etc.

For the residential customer, nanogrid technology is being portrayed as a “simple and friendly” power supply. The chief difference between a microgrid and a nanogrids is the size – nanogrids are small. Whereas a microgrid can have multiple power sources and serve multiple buildings or loads; a nanogrid usually has one power source and serves one building. Also, a nanogrid is more affordable and quicker to build.

One of the chief marketing tools has been the growing numbers of prolonged power outages and rolling blackouts brought about by global climate change with its extreme weather events. Several surveys reported that suppliers have seen large increases in residential demand for both energy storage additions and nanogrid installations. It seems the customers are now questioning the reliability of the grid and see the technology as a safe way for them to take control of their power needs.

The Next Must-Have Technology

There are a lot of applications for utilizing second-life EV batteries in small and medium sized buildings. Audi has installed an exceptional application at the Munich Airport in their “Audi Brand Experience Center.” The building is a showcase for energy and building technology. The glass facades of the center house transparent PV elements making up 1,650 solar cells producing 42 MWh of electricity per year. Power can be stored in second-life battery energy storage systems for the building itself or for charging electric cars.

The Chinese EV manufacturer BYD has formed a partnership with a Chinese startup, and Japanese trading house Itochu to produce energy storage systems for renewable energy facilities and factories. Itochu will install about 160 interconnected BYD second-life EV batteries into a specialized 20-foot shipping container with about 1 MWh of capacity. Combining these devices with some digital controls can turn a renewable energy facility into a microgrid quickly. The power units are expected to go on sale in 2021.

There is a growing list of European companies providing second-life EV battery powered energy storage systems for residential buildings. Powervault is using Renault and Nissan second-life batteries in their “3eco” systems, which is being used by UK Power Networks. xStorage uses Nissan second-life batteries for their “Home” systems that are being sold across Europe. The Swedish based “Box of Energy” system uses second-life batteries from Volvo for their product.

Modern society relies on electricity to the point that it has become indispensable, especially in these times of the remote workplace and the virtual office. A reliable electricity supply supports all of the services and devices that everyone depends on, which is why stationary energy storage systems are taking center stage for C&I and residential customers. But it is more than energy storage, it is the ability to provide continuous power in all conditions, which is why second-life EV batteries represent so much potential.

They promise to give customers an affordable and safe power supply through times when the grid is not available through microgrid/nanogrid plug and play options. Suppliers are starting to offer deals and our customers appear to be receptive. Is this a new trend that will be not only a gamechanger, but a grid-changer? An array of virtual power plants could be just around the corner!

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