By Jonathan Marshall, Chief, External Communications
Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Electric vehicle (EV) owners and electric utilities may soon enjoy a much closer and more fulfilling relationship than traditional car owners have with gas stations, thanks to a new pilot project announced today by IBM, Honda Motors, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). This collaboration aims to demonstrate the ability to optimize the charge schedule for each customer’s EV battery so that the needs of customers and the electric grid are satisfied on an ongoing basis. That’s still a stretch for most utilities.
When the typical power engineer hears “electric vehicle,” he or she usually thinks: “challenge.” A plug-in vehicle can draw as much power as three homes in the more temperate parts of California. An enthusiastic bunch of early adopters could potentially overload local circuits if they all charge up at the same time in the same neighborhood.
But PG&E is thinking instead, “opportunity.” For one thing, we have a growing number of clean electric vehicles in our own fleet, from Chevy Volts to a new class of extended-range pickup trucks from Via Motors. And we know that widespread adoption of EVs throughout California will help the state meet its ambitious clean-air goals.
For another, we believe there’s great potential for using the latest “smart grid” technology to facilitate vehicle charging at night, when demand is low. By making use of underutilized generation and grid resources at off-peak times, EVs can help utilities make more efficient use of their assets and spread costs over a wider load without overtaxing the system.
PG&E demonstrated last year, in the first utility test of smart charging, that it could control vehicle charging through its SmartMeter™ infrastructure. But in a competitive marketplace, many customers may want to put control of their charging in other hands—such as the vehicle manufacturer or another trusted vendor. The whole process may someday be controlled by a third-party app on your smart phone.
The IBM-Honda-PG&E pilot takes an important step in that direction. The basic concept is to marry Honda’s knowledge of the status of its EVs and PG&E’s knowledge of the status of its grid with IBM’s “cloud” computing power to make charging smarter, simpler, and more efficient.
“We want to encourage third parties to innovate,” said Ulric Kwan, PG&E’s project manager. “What we haven’t yet demonstrated is whether you can develop a ‘brain’ in the cloud that meets our needs and those of our customers. Each customer has a different set of needs. The cloud has to figure this out and provide the proper charging levels to each EV, adapting to changing customer requirements and grid needs.”
This new pilot will demonstrate exactly that. IBM will take data from several Honda Fit EVs, via cellular uplink, and analyze it together with sample data from PG&E on the status of its electric distribution network to help optimize the charging schedule for each car. (Honda plans to begin selling the Fit EV to California customers this summer).
PG&E, meanwhile, still has plans—awaiting approval by the California Public Utilities Commission—to recruit up to 100 EV owners to test more advanced communications between the utility and EV battery chargers via SmartMeters™. This proposed pilot would bring us one step closer to the holy grail of using EV batteries as a form of distributed energy storage for capturing and making good use of fluctuating supplies of renewable energy.
For all of these projects, the overriding goal is the same: to ensure safe, reliable, and affordable service to our customers. Fortunately, PG&E has some very smart partners to help us make that happen.
Join PG&E and IBM for the #EVWeek Twitter Chat on April 12, from noon to 1pm ET @smarterplanet. For more information, visit: http://storify.com/smarterplanet/p4spchat-electric-vehicle-adoption