By Clay Luthy, Global Distributed Energy Resource Leader, Energy & Utilities Industry, IBM
With gas prices hovering at $4.15 per gallon where I live, the talk of electric vehicles (EVs) has increased with vigor. More of my neighbors and friends are toying with the idea of making the switch – much of their reluctance though stems from the fear of inconvenience – will I find a charging station as easily as a gas pump, how will this impact my energy bill, how far can I go on a single charge? These consumer concerns are driving new innovations – uniting forward thinking players to perfect and deploy a smarter EV driving experience.
As a resident of Washington DC, I don’t have to look very far without noticing the well-established bike sharing program that is currently in place. Locals are biking to and from the subway station and to work while tourists are cruising along to increase the number of monuments and museums they can see in a day.
This approach to urban commuting is now applied to electric vehicles. For example, in Paris, Autolib launched an EV sharing program with great success. According to initial reports, 250 vehicles hit the road on the first day, 2000 are expected this summer and 3,000 are planned within the next two years. Like bike sharing, I can see why this mode has taken off in a city with over two million citizens and highly dense roads – a strategy that I believe, should be replicated in cities around the world.
New business models are being deployed to support privately owned electric vehicles as well. In Israel, Better Place is set to go live on a deployment of networked charging stations. Their innovative business model helps reduce the cost as users pay for electric vehicles much like they do a cell phone – they receive a discounted price on the vehicle and battery in exchange for subscribing to a service to recharge. Innovative business models are often what is needed to bring new technology to the mainstream.
Innovation is also driving the way we create fuel for electric vehicles. Already we are seeing renewable energy becoming cost competitive with traditional energy sources due to improved manufacturing processes and technological breakthrough. Within the next 5 years, we can expect to see the levelized cost (a common cost metric) of electricity generated from roof mounted solar to be the same as, or potentially even less than, your retail electricity price. This, to me, is exciting news for both our environment as well as for our transportation system.
It’s a known fact that electric vehicles can help increase the use of renewable energy. If EVs can communicate with the grid, they can charge based on the availability of renewable energy resources, such as sun and wind. This will help overcome the variability and relative unpredictability of renewable energy (the sun doesn’t always shine when it’s supposed to!) —a challenge that needs to be addressed if renewable energy will scale.
It’s also why the recently announced project with Honda and PG&E is so important – it allows vehicles and the grid to directly communicate with each other. Layer in IBM’s cloud based optimization and automatically, the vehicles become intelligent —now with the ability to charge in accordance with grid conditions.
However, innovative business models and electricity from renewable sources will be less impactful if we are not successful at making the experience of recharging your electric vehicle as easy as pumping gas. This means that we must ensure open access to charge posts for all users regardless of who owns or operates them. Innovation is likewise occurring on this front — Data standards are under development to ensure charge posts communicate in a common way Think of it this way, what happens when you go from one city or state to another and need to recharge your vehicle?
You may be the realm of another service provider and much like cell phones in the old days, if proper systems aren’t place, you may not be able to recharge outside of your network.
In Europe, IBM and a consortium of partners are building a demonstration system that allows for seamless interoperability. As an example, a participant could drive from Barcelona to Rome, charge their vehicle and be accurately billed for the electricity even though the network of charge posts in the two cities are owned and operated by two separate entities.
Similarly, the IBM team in Slovakia is working with ZSE on a project that is designed to make charging across territories more convenient for consumer. Using e-mobility technology, this study will help interconnect the Slovakian capital city, Bratislava and Vienna with a “green highway” of public charging stations.
It’s innovations like these that keep me both optimistic and fascinated by the future of the electric vehicle. With fuel prices rising higher and higher, the decision to switch to EVs is getting more attention but is till by no means an easy one, especially considering that Americans on average purchase a new car every five years. So, we all want to ensure we’re making the right decision.
The industry, local and national governments, auto-manufactures and utilities are making significant in-roads – the rest is up to us.
Today marks the last day of #EVweek. Thank you for participating in all of the various online activities. If have more opinions, we’d like to hear them. Continue the conversation today on IBM’s People for A Smarter Planet (P4SP) for #SmarterFriday, a daylong chat about EVs.