How telematics can help smart grids talk to cars

Helping electric vehicles communicate with the grid is crucial for utilities to manage electric loads. With renewable energy sources still “spikey,” as Sunil Chhaya, senior project manager at Palo Alto-based Electric Power Research Institute, puts it, telematics can help moderate the swings.

Say, for instance, a football match lets out on a hot summer afternoon in August, everyone drives home in their electric cars and wants to charge all at once. Suddenly, there are a thousand cars sucking megawatts of power from the grid. How can the utility company prepare? That’s a scenario Willett Kempton, director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware, and others, are working to eliminate by developing communication systems among the driver, car, and power suppliers.

Two-way supply and communication

Jasna Tomic, fuel project manager at CALSTART, a nonprofit, says the technical solutions are not difficult. “The challenge is educational,” she says. Traditional utilities are used to dealing with stationary power sources, while car manufacturers are focused on driving capabilities.

Kempton is working on the Grid Integrated Vehicle, a program that uses telematics to form a communication network, not just for two-way power supply but for two-way communication as well. Drivers, for instance, can map out a schedule and range for their weekly charges, which will then be sent to a third-party aggregator. At the beginning of the week, a driver can plug in, say, a 25-mile drive to and from work at 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays and add on a more leisurely Sunday noon getaway of 100 miles.

The remote scheduling is done from a smartphone app, and the aggregator can keep track of all the program’s participants. The aggregator would then make sure that the fleets leaving for work in the morning and the select few driving on Sunday would be charged up. With this knowledge, aggregators could drop the charge on cars that aren’t likely to be used and quickly charge cars if there’s an electric overload on the system. “What you’re selling is not electricity; you’re selling the ability to control electricity and the ability to go up or down to provide or draw power when needed,” Kempton says. (For more on smart grid infrastructure, see ‘Telematics and smart grids: The business opportunity’.)

Driver-to-car connectivity

Nuvve, a California-based company, has licensed Kempton’s technology and is beginning to commercialize it outside the United States. By the end of the year, they’ll have 50 small, retrofitted vehicles that can transfer and communicate bi-directionally. Nuvve is starting its pilots in Denmark, then expanding into Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and Spain. Nuvve’s cars plug right into the wall and immediately start communicating with their servicers via a fixed or wireless Internet connection.

In US tests, Nuvve CEO Gregory Poilasne says the system pays back drivers $2,000 to $5,000 annually. Nuvve, who will sell energy directly to the ISO, saves money itself by not having any fixed costs from real estate or maintenance overhead since their power is coming remotely. “The market today is mostly made up of heavy fixed costs,” Poilasne says. “We are coming with just the variable costs. We’re going to be able to offer very attractive prices.”

Sweden’s Telenor Connexion, meanwhile, is working with Daimler and Nissan on driver-to-car connectivity. The Nissan Leaf will soon be rolling out with built-in Telenor connectivity solutions. Drivers will be able to read the car’s charging status from an app on their phone. (For more on apps, see ‘Telematics and Generation Y: Making the car an iPhone on wheels’ and ‘In-car telematics services: There’s an app for that’.)

Robert Brunback, head of market strategy at Telenor Connexion, says it will “lower range anxiety” for drivers who want to make sure they know they can make it on their next drive. You can find out charge and range. (For more on range anxiety, see ‘Telematics and EVs: Reducing range anxiety’.) “Leaf is definitely the player moving early in this space and moving into deployment,” Brunback says. In the near future, he expects an app that allows drivers arriving in an urban area to be able to pinpoint charging stations much like they might figure out where the closest coffee shops are. Google has already added charging stations to Google Maps. (For more on charging stations, see ‘How to profit from telematics driver data’ and ‘Telematics and EVs: Things to do while charging ’.)

Greg T. Spielberg is a regular contributor to TU.

For all the latest on smart grids and EVs, join the sector’s thought leaders at PHEV/EV Infrastructure and Business Japan 2011 on September 7-8 in Tokyo, Plug-In Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Conference & Exhibition Europe 2011 on October 11-12 in Frankfurt, Telematics Munich 2011 on November 9-10 in Munich and Content & App for Automotive Europe 2012 in May 2012 in Germany.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *