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Boulder is finding success a year into a pilot program testing a bidirectional electric vehicle charging system at the North Boulder Recreation Center.

The city partnered with Fermata Energy, a Virginia-based energy technology company, to test the electric vehicle charging system, meant to reduce the city’s energy load and lower utility costs by using two-way electricity from the building to the car and from the car back to the building.

So far, it’s done just that.

According to an annual report released earlier this week, the two-way charging system in 2021 reduced costs by about $250 a month, reducing the recreation center’s monthly electricity bill by about 3.4%. It’s a modest savings, but the results are promising, the city noted.

Traditionally, electric vehicle charging stations have a one-way flow from the grid or the building to the car.

For the pilot program, which began in 2021, the city is using one of its fleet vehicles, a Nissan LEAF, which is used within the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The car charges overnight when demand at the recreation center is low and provides power to the building during the day when demand is higher. The battery retains enough charge to power the fleet vehicle’s everyday duties. When it’s not being used by Parks and Recreation, the vehicle is connected to the two-way system.

For David Slutzky, CEO of Fermata Energy, Boulder’s success “really consistently shows how valuable bidirectional charging is to the electric vehicle industry.”

The company has been testing the technology in other locations, including at the Alliance Center in Denver.

While there are different circumstances in different places, “we have not had a single deployment with a bad outcome,” Slutzky said.

The city isn’t paying anything for the pilot program. It provided the car, and Fermata Energy provided the charger in order to test it and collect data.

The pilot program in Boulder received national attention. IDC Government Insights, a global data corporation that works with governments to provide better services, recognized the program in its annual Smart Cities North American Awards.

Boulder’s electric vehicle charging station program won in the smart buildings category.

Now that the program has thus far proven successful, the city is considering how to proceed into the future.

Using more bidirectional chargers could lead to greater cost savings for the city.

To combat the fact that nearly one-third of Boulder’s emissions come from transportation, the city has committed to transitioning its fleet to one that’s all-electric by the end of the decade. It currently has more than 30 electric vehicles within its fleet.

But it’s also looking into other ways to use the technology, according to Matt Lehrman, an energy utilities policy adviser for the city.

For example, while demand management is important, bidirectional technology could also be used to provide backup power, Lehrman noted.

Slutzky said this is technology Fermata Energy has already developed.

“It’s really disruptive technology,” he said. “The bidirectional technology makes electric vehicles a really good backup power solution.”

But overall, when Lehrman considers the first year of the pilot program, there is perhaps one takeaway that outweighs the rest.

“It works,” he said. “This type of technology is something that’s been a dream for a long time.”

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