Bidirectional charging allows EV owners to turn their vehicles into virtual power plants, not just soaking up power to move the car but also sending it back into their homes during a blackout, known as vehicle-to-home (V2H), or to the utility network during peak hours, known as vehicle-to-grid (V2G).
California State Senator Nancy Skinner introduced SB-233 in January. The measure, which would have gone into effect in 2027, cleared the Senate by a wide 29-9 margin. The bidirectional mandate was gutted in an assembly committee, however, leaving only a requirement to study the issue further.
Sen. Skinner said she’s decided not to move forward.
With California slated to ban the sale of gas-powered automobiles in 2035, Sen. Skinner told CNET her goal is to create a level playing field for future car buyers.
“Mandates are often the way to ensure manufacturers can’t just put a premium price on a feature, or just make it available in luxury models, because everyone has to have it,” the senator told CNET before SB-233’s defeat. “This bill takes that concern — that bidirectional capability would make a vehicle much more expensive — off the table.”
In a follow-up, Sen. Skinner said her office will be looking for “a new path forward to ensure that all California EV owners can benefit from an EV’s potential to be a mini power plant on wheels.”
Among those opposing the bill was the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which includes automakers, battery producers, semiconductor suppliers and autonomous vehicle developers. In a letter, AAI’s state affairs director, Curt Augustine, said SB-233 only required compliance from automakers, not utility companies.
“[That] will not ensure that bidirectional charging will take place — or will even be capable of taking place,” Augustine wrote. “There are a number of additional items that must be in place … including electric grid capabilities, communication standards and bidirectional-ready converters on chargers.”
Augustine also indicated that to accommodate a larger battery and the necessary hardware and software, making an EV bidirectional would raise its price by up to $3,700.
Currently, only a few cars are truly bidirectionally enabled in the US, most notably the Nissan Leaf. Power companies are still figuring out how to pay customers for selling back electricity while ensuring a surge in electricity upstream won’t overwhelm the grid.
“Utilities have to figure out what they’re doing with the technology and infrastructure,” said Orville Thomas, policy director for CalStart, a nonprofit that encourages advanced transportation technology. “Just saying, ‘Well, your cars in your neighborhood are bidirectional, they’ll solve the problem,’ isn’t going to save us from blackouts.”
Thomas said CalStart tried to have a conversation about the real costs of bidirectionality before SB-233 was introduced, “but it really does seem like this has been railroaded.”
He supports bidirectionality “as part of a menu of possible solutions,” but doesn’t see it as a silver bullet for growing energy demands.
Regardless, demand for bidirectional charging has increased: BMW, Volvo and Porsche are all testing the feature, and Kia said the 2024 EV9 will be V2G-capable. In August, GM announced all of its electric vehicles will be bidirectional by model year 2026. And Tesla confirmed it will be standard in its lineup by 2025.
Jigar Shah, director of the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office, is confident bidirectional charging will be industrywide within the next year or two.
“Customers are increasingly saying, ‘Hey, my buddy’s electric vehicle does that, how come mine doesn’t?'” Shah said at the Renewable Energy conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday. “I wouldn’t be surprised if every electric vehicle shipped next year has the capacity built into it, even if the car company hasn’t unlocked it yet.”