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.




Posted by : Allison Eckelkamp | On : October 16, 2011

Despite huge consumer hurdles that still need to be overcome for wide-scale EV adoption, there has been some interesting news on the EV front this week. Here’s a bit of a recap:

  • Nissan introduced a 10-minute charger. That said, it could take a decade to fully commercialize this product for the mass market. In the meantime, Nissan is supporting charging stations that could provide an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. This is still a long trip to the “gas station.”
  • Seven auto manufacturers collaborate to support a “harmonized single-port fast charging approach for use on electric vehicles in Europe and the United States.”  Those auto makers include: Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche and Volkswagen.
  • The city of Charlotte is “jump starting” electric vehicles with the purchase of seven Nissan Leaf vehicles. The city is also installing seven charging stations throughout the city.  The article reports, “With a federal grant covering the program through July of next year, the cost of the charge would initially be free.”
  • EV charging stations installed at King of Prussia Mall in Philadelphia. Two level-2 chargers will be installed in October, and two additional units will be installed later this fall.

An interesting article titled “The Coming EV Glut,” by David Welch at Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek, discusses how government subsidies may be creating a glut in EVs that consumer simply don’t want — or aren’t ready for.  This part of the article summarizes things quite nicely. Welch says in his article, ” J.D. Power predicts that 27,000 EVs will sell next year, and another 58,000 will be sold in 2013. In late 2012, Nissan will be building the Leaf electric-car at its plant in Smyrna, Tenn., with capacity to make 150,000 of them. Nissan plans to sell most of those in the U.S., says Brendan Jones, director of sales and marketing for the Leaf.” The article continues, “In other words, if J.D. Power is right, Nissan in 2013 will be building more than double what the market wants—to say nothing of the other 14 EVs that will come to market between now and then.”



Posted by : Allison Eckelkamp | On : October 6, 2011

I was once entirely convinced that electric vehicles (EVs) might just be the “killer app” for smart grid.  But, for EVs to create a demand for smart grid technologies and applications, there first needs to be a demand for EVs.

The previous EV forecasts for electric vehicles have been good, and with President Obama’s stated goal of 1 million EVs on US roads by 2015, the concept is at least part of the American consciousness (probably more so than the concept of “smart grid”).

Additionally, EVs like the Tesla have appealed to car enthusiasts all over the world.

Why wouldn’t people like a car they can simply “plug in” at home? The benefits are clear: EVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are predicted to have lower “fueling” costs (possibly equivalent to 75 cents per gallon), lessen our demand for foreign oil (by more than half with wide-scale adoption), and slash emissions (close to 30 percent) – especially if we can charge them up on wind or other renewable energies.

With smart meters, other smart grid technologies, and variable pricing plans in place, consumers could get an even better bargain if they charged during off-peak hours – like, when they’re sleeping, which is when they’re apt to plug in anyway.

Unfortunately, some EVs still leave a lot to be desired, according to consumer survey results published in a report this week by Deloitte. The survey of 13,000 people in 17 countries found that “no more than four percent of global consumers [are] likely to be satisfied with today’s electric vehicles.”

Why? To summarize Deloitte’s findings:

  • Vehicle range is an issue – Americans have the highest expectations, and only 63 percent would be satisfied with a 300-mile range. The kicker – most mass-market EVs will get about 100 miles to the charge, or twice the 50-mile-per-day (or less) commute that 77 percent of Americans now have.
  • Charging takes way too long – As a society that demands instant gratification, most American consumers (58 percent) want a two-hour charge, and 23 percent want their cars to charge in less than 30 minutes. According to Deloitte’s press release, “in all countries, only a minority viewed up to eight hours (the normal time it takes to recharge the typical batter in today’s vehicles) as acceptable.“
  • The price premium on EVs is not gonna fly – People don’t want to pay any premium on EVs;  in fact, more than 50 percent of consumers worldwide are opposed to any price premium (65 percent in the U.S.).

Why would people buy an EV? According to the survey, if fuel prices continue to rise. More than half of Americans surveyed said a price point of $4 per gallon on gas would make them more likely to consider an electric vehicle. But, if traditional cars can achieve 50 miles per gallon, the majority of consumers around the world would be less likely to consider an EV purchase.

The challenges are certainly clear. Craig Giffi, vice chairman and automotive practice leader, Deloitte LLP, stated in press release: “For the time being, the mass adoption of electric vehicles is more likely to occur in countries that are willing and able to take an aggressive policy approach that encourages and subsidizes the market. And in today’s world, with so many sovereign debt challenges, that is very likely to be a road less traveled.”

In more hopeful news …

Other announcements this week hold promise for EVs and most certainly will help us learn more about the likelihood of EV adoption, including a pilot announced by Dominion Virginia Power and a research collaboration announced between GE and Nissan.


Click here to download entire Deloitte study.

Image provided by: Paul Martin Eldridge: