Carmakers, Power Utilities Team To Make Smart Charging Easier | Edmunds

Carmakers, Power Utilities Team To Make Smart Charging Easier

Just the Facts:
  • Major automakers and power utilities have combined forces to develop an open platform for smart charging of plug-in vehicles (PEVs).
  • Successful application of the system will let PEV owners take advantage of programs such as off-peak charging wherever they happen to be.
  • PEVs also could universally participate in so-called smart grid programs that minimize the impact of car-charging loads during periods of high residential or commercial demand for electricity.

PALO ALTO, California — Plug-in vehicle builders and the consumers who buy their cars face a perplexing challenge today. With more than 1,000 separate power utilities in the U.S., getting vehicles that can communicate with all of the various smart grid systems now offered and under development is difficult at best.

That breeds inefficiencies for consumers seeking the fastest and cheapest sources of power for their plug-in cars and crossovers, for carmakers seeking to simplify the car-building process and for utilities hoping that growing numbers of plug-in vehicles don't overwhelm their power delivery systems during periods of high demand.

To help avoid burdening consumers, carmakers and utilities with a mishmash of incompatible smart-grid communications systems that prevent plug-in vehicles from efficiently using the grid, a group of key automakers and utilities have teamed up to develop an open platform for so-called smart charging.

The system, backed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), eight major carmakers and a number of major utilities, would permit integration of plug-in-vehicles with smart grid technologies so the cars can charge efficiently, regardless of location.

EPRI announced the open platform program in conjunction with Plug-In 2014, a national plug-in vehicle industry conference being held through Wednesday in California's Silicon Valley.

For owners — and prospective owners — of plug-in vehicles, the immediate potential of an open platform is that it can reduce both the cost of charging and the difficulties often encountered in identifying the most efficient and cost-effective times to charge.

"It will seamlessly enable charging during off-peak periods and removes any potential confusion about different charging incentive programs that may be offered by utilities, regardless of location," said EPRI spokesman Clay Perry.

The open platform would enable common communication among the various brands of plug-in-vehicles and the myriad utilities from which they draw their battery charges.

That's important because many utilities, as well as home and business power-management systems and commercial and public charging-system providers, are beginning to use "smart" chargers that can tell a vehicle the best time to start drawing power to take advantage of the lowest available rates.

In the future, these smart chargers also will be able to use two-way communication with plug-in vehicles to help manage the grid — reducing or stopping the flow of power to the car when demand for power in the commercial or residential sectors is high, for instance.

Power suppliers also see benefits in being able to draw power from fully charged cars that are plugged in to the grid and that signal the utility that the owner has agreed to let the vehicle be used as a power provider.

None of those things are possible, however, unless all of the various plug-in vehicles and utilities and other charging power providers can communicate.

Automakers involved in the program are American Honda Motor, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America.

Sumitomo Electric is developing the first phase of the core platform technology, said Dan Bowermaster, manager of EPRI's electric transportation program.

"We see this as the foundation for future development to integrate PEVs with the grid," said Bowermaster.

Edmunds says: Anything that makes car charging cheaper, more efficient and less of a drain on our power supply will be a welcome advance.

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