Smart Grid & Smart Cars

Last month one of the leaders in providing enabling technology for the smart grid, GridPoint, Inc., conducted a public demonstration of their “smart charging” software. This took place at an EV conference sponsored by the Electric Drive Transportation Association. As we reported in an earlier feature “Smart Grid Enablers – GridPoint,” the move to a more electricity centric automotive fleet depends on transformative innovation and massive investment occurring not only in the automotive industry, but in the utility sector. Moreover, these developments have to occur in a closely coordinated manner, in order to yield a new paradigm where a smart grid interacts virtually continuously with smart cars.

David Kaplan, VP of Electric Vehicle Management at GridPoint, described some of the features of their product, which might be described as enterprise software for the smart utility, which in order to function needs to be implemented not only at the utility, but requires modules that operate on client platforms such as large home appliances, home electricity meters, and electric vehicles.

For example, the owner of an electric vehicle will recharge the battery when the car is parked at their home, but they may also use remote charging stations. But because wherever the car gets recharged, both the car and the charging station are in direct communication with the utility, as Kaplan puts it, “our goal is for the owner to get one bill regardless of where they charge their vehicle, because the charge points in public spaces will use our system to provide a roaming charge, appearing on a single bill.”

When asked how much GridPoint’s software may add to the price of the car, Kaplan said “we think the amount is small, the ultimate aim is eventually to have the technology footprint on the car be 100% software.”

Kaplan also noted “there could be incentive programs to the owner where if they do smart charging they get better electricity rates.”

The notion of “smart charging” is an area where vehicles can actively participate in load balancing on the power grid, eliminating the need for new investment in “peaking” electric power plants that only operate during times of high electricity demand. Using cars to store electricity and return this power to the grid – almost as a personal energy arbitrage agent for every vehicle owner – is not necessarily practical, primarily because the differential between peak rates and off-peak rates for a consumer will not translate into enough arbitrage profits to justify the wear caused by cycling the automobile battery between charged and discharged states.

Even if cars are only charged and discharged for the exclusive purpose of driving, however, controlling when these cars are charged can greatly reduce loads on the grid. Instead of arriving home every evening and plugging the EV in to begin charging for the next morning’s commute – precisely during peak demand – a smart car will wait until after prime time, after the millions of electricity guzzling flat screen TVs are off for the night, for example, and then begin its charge cycle. Smart discharging into the grid may not make sense for the owner of an EV, but smart recharging helps everyone – the EV owner pays off-peak rates, and the utility avoids having to build a peaking power plant.
post resumes below image

Example of a remotely accessed report of an individual
EV’s charging and energy consumption profile.
(Image: GridPoint, Inc.)

To make this possible, EVs require power management systems that include IP addressable devices that can communicate with charging stations, and in-turn, with the electricity utility. GridPoint is at the forefront of this effort. Kaplan noted they are working closely with several around the U.S., including Seattle City Light, Austin Energy, Duke Energy, and several others to be announced later this year. Gridpoint is also working with automakers, including General Motors, whose Chevy Volt is probably the closest vehicle with an all-electric drivetrain to mass production.

To view an actual demonstration of the ability of GridPoint’s software to allow a utility to remotely control the rate of charging of an individual EV battery pack, view this GM/GridPoint Smart Charging Demo video.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.