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Electric Vehicles

Car Companies Are Energy Companies Now

The major U.S. automakers are catching up on Tesla’s power game.

A Silverado EV and power lines.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

It was my first truck-powered cocktail party.

General Motors had gathered journalists at a Beverly Hills mansion last week for a vehicle-to-home show and tell. GM’s engineers outfitted the garage with all the components needed for an electric vehicle’s battery to back up the house’s power supply. Then they tripped the circuit breaker to cut off the home from grid power and let the plugged-in Chevy Silverado electric pickup run the home’s lights and other electrical systems for the remainder of the gathering.

V2H tech, as it’s known, will be available in the top-of-the-line Silverado EV First-Edition RST that will begin deliveries in the middle of this year, making the Chevy competitive with its natural rival, the electric Ford F-150 Lightning. The Ford, released just two years ago, was one of the first American EVs to use bidirectional charging to let the vehicle battery to power the home. Soon, though, V2H may be commonplace: GM promises to put it not just in all its new electric trucks, but also in all the new EVs it’s building on the new Ultium platform by 2026, which may force other automakers to follow suit.

These moves aren’t just about a new feature to highlight in truck commercials. In the EV age, car companies have to become energy companies, too.

GM has spun off a whole new group, GM Energy, just to handle all the ways its electric Chevrolets and Cadillacs will interface with the integrated home. In its simplest guise, V2H, the system requires several boxes mounted to the wall in the garage. There’s a “dark start” battery to make sure the backup system has enough juice to get going again in case of power outage; and there’s an inverter to turn the DC electricity from a truck battery into AC for the house. The GM’s PowerShift charger refills the EV battery, but also allows energy to flow both ways.

That’s just the beginning. GM Energy is also introducing stackable PowerBank batteries a person could keep in their basement or garage. The company will add the ability to integrate solar panels into the system later in 2024, according to Chief Revenue Officer Aseem Kapur.

With these new pieces in place, energy can move around a person’s home in any direction. On a very sunny day, excess solar energy could be routed to the house’s battery stack — just as, at the scale of the utility grid, excess power from solar farms is stashed away in batteries during the afternoon to provide energy at night. The home’s battery stack could be used to back up the power supply in case of outage (just in case your Silverado isn’t plugged in at the time).

And the next stage is coming soon. Kapur said that by 2026, GM’s Ultium EVs will be equipped with vehicle-to-grid — V2G — capability. Today, some residents with home energy storage are using their stashed kilowatt-hours to participate in a virtual power plant; they engage in energy arbitrage by storing electricity when it’s cheap and selling it back to the grid when it’s expensive, making money in the process. V2G represents one step further. EVs that can talk to the grid could help to prevent blackouts and let their drivers engage in energy arbitrage using the battery in their pickup truck while it’s parked in the driveway. (For what it’s worth, Kapur told me the charging and discharging cycles from doing this are much easier on the EV’s battery life than the herky-jerky, stop-and-start nature of driving.)

It turns out that electrification is a multi-pronged revolution in the car business. First came the cars. As Heatmap has reported, Tesla’s enormous lead in selling EVs has eroded as the big companies’ electric offerings have improved and Musk became distracted with Twitter, Cybertrucks, and robotaxis.

The energy business marks another way the old-fashioned car companies are finally catching up to Elon Musk. Tesla for years has sold its own solar panels and Powerwall home batteries. It set up a virtual power plant in Texas to allow its solar and battery customers to make money on the energy markets. Suddenly, Detroit is moving into that space.

GM Energy’s home-of-the-future system will be sold as an added feature for people who buy an EV like the Silverado and want to back up their home electricity, but anybody — Chevy driver or no — could buy into the interconnected residential energy system. Ford’s Home Integration System performs the same function. At CES in January, Kia demonstrated an entire connected home to evangelize the potential of V2H and V2G. It won’t be long before all the major automakers have a similar solution on offer.

Of course, the home is just one part of the new energy ecosystem. In the days of gasoline, the oil companies controlled refueling and filled the country with Chevron and Texaco stations on every corner. But in the electric age, the carmakers are trying to exert more control on that market. Tesla appeared to grab the early lead in fast-charging stations, then it convinced the other automakers — GM and Ford included — to adopt its plug standard in their EVs so their customers could take advantage of Tesla’s charging network.

But with recent mass layoffs to Tesla’s Supercharger team, that advantage is in doubt. Musk may have opened the door for the other carmakers to swoop in. GM was among seven automakers that, earlier this year, pledged to build out 30,000 new fast-charging stations of their own by the decade’s end. As car companies continue to build out their energy businesses, they’ll keep creeping up on Tesla’s territory there. Then Musk really better hope that the robotaxi pans out.

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Andrew Moseman profile image

Andrew Moseman

Andrew Moseman has covered science, technology, and transportation for publications such as The Atlantic, Inverse, Insider, Outside, and MIT Technology Review. He was previously digital director of Popular Mechanics and now serves as online communications editor at Caltech. He is based in Los Angeles.

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