Posted by : Allison Eckelkamp | On : October 20, 2011

It’s not the type of cloud that may require you to run the windshield wipers.

Rather, IBM has taken its smarter planet philosophy on the road and is working with Swiss utility EKZ to provide a new cloud-based app that connects the driver, the utility, the electric vehicle (EV), and the EV charging station through a smartphone (or other web-based device) application. The ultimate consumer benefits — to help ease range anxiety, ensure the user is always “topped off,” help drivers get the lowest fuel rate, and provide environmentally focused consumers with the option to choose renewable power as their fuel source.

The application provides the driver with information and control from virtually anywhere. Connected to an IBM cloud service, the app can retrieve information from the car, which sends data to the cloud via a “phonebook-sized” gadget within the vehicle. This gadget communicates a variety of stats , including fuel level (or power level), available range, vehicle location, and charging schedule. The cloud-based application can also connect to the utility to retrieve real-time cost data and tell drivers when it’s most economical to “fill up.”

According to IBM’s press release, the app “can be programmed to start battery charging at a future point in time, for example when rates are lowest or when a trip is planned.”

Leveraging cleaner energy, EKZ is programming these technologies to charge the vehicle when renewable energy is strongest. According to IBM, the app enables EV owners to “delegate the responsibility of recharging the battery to the utility provider, which can schedule charges based on the availability of renewable resources, such as sun and wind, allowing the utility to improve load balancing and prevent outages.”

Load balancing and outage prevention will be the key benefit to utilities. If EVs really take off (and some data show that this could take a while), utilities will need to understand how to manage this huge drain on the grid while still ensuring reliable, steady power to the rest of its customers. Certainly, time-of-use rates that incent “off-peak” charging could help balance the load, but understanding the actual  habits of drivers — with real-time data provided by cloud-based applications like the one IBM is developing — could prove to be even more valuable.

Here’s a video published on YouTube by IBM Research – Zurich that explains the pilot in more depth:


Image courtesy of IBM.