GM using EV batteries to power Milford data center

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. said Tuesday it is using five used Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle batteries to help power the new GM enterprise data center at its Milford Proving Ground, the automaker's first real world implementation of secondary battery use.

The carmaker made the announcement during the 2015 Advanced Automotive Battery Conference in Detroit.

GM's Pablo Valencia, senior manager of battery life cycle management, has said that when an electric vehicle battery reaches the end of its automotive use, 30 percent or less of the battery life has been used. GM plans for each Volt battery to last at least 10 years on the road and the batteries could provide power for energy storage for another 10 years.

GM is looking to partner with others for future deployments even though the supply of batteries today is "pretty small," Valencia said.

"(We're) looking at secondary applications as an opportunity to extend the benefits of that battery out of the Chevrolet Volt, off the road and onto the grid," he said.

The automaker said a 74-kilowatt solar array and two 2-kilowatt wind turbines go into the administration building's circuit breaker panel, and the five Volt batteries packaged in what looks like a large box work in parallel to supply power to the data center's administration building and to light an adjacent parking lot. A GM spokeswoman said the unit has been operational for a few weeks. Cost savings were not immediately available.

GM said the batteries also can provide back-up power for four hours to the building in case of an outage and it can store power when it's not needed. Extra energy is sent back to the electric grid that supplies the Milford campus.

GM said the combination of renewable energy sources annually produce the equivalent energy that would be needed to power 12 average households.

The Milford data center is one of two GM operates in Michigan. It went online a few months ago and now is running 130 applications. GM is transitioning from 23 data centers to the two in Michigan. It has closed 15 data centers and others are planned to be closed by the end of the year, said Randy Mott, GM's chief information officer.

Mott said the timing of the Milford project, new construction and the capability of the technology came together to "show what was possible."

The Detroit automaker in November 2012 showed a second use for EV batteries with ABB Group that allowed the batteries to store electricity to light homes in the event of power failure and to store electricity from a time of day when power is cheaper and deliver it during more expensive peak-demand hours.

The companies at the time teamed up with Duke Energy to package five Volt lithium-ion batteries into a unit that could provide two hours of electricity for three to five average U.S. homes. In 2013, a unit was slated to be installed in a neighborhood for testing.

The automaker has said finding secondary uses for the batteries could boost residual values of electric vehicles. EV sales have struggled to take off, especially in wake of lower gasoline prices.

GM debuted the plug-in hybrid electric Volt in late 2010 as a 2011 model. The next generation 2016 Volt, with 31 percent more all-electric range than the first-generation car, goes on sale later this year. The carmaker also is bringing to market the Chevrolet Bolt EV, a 200-mile plus pure electric vehicle with seating for five people. Analysts expect the Bolt EV will go on sale in early 2017.