When PG&E (PCG) and electric car startup Tesla said last month that they plan to research “smart charging” for electric plug-in vehicles — where the rate that a plug-in vehicle charges from the grid can be controlled remotely by a utility — we checked in with three experts on how important this technology could be. The consensus was that smart charging could one day save plug-in vehicle customers money and help utilities best manage the electricity grid.
With car customers showing more and more interest in plug-in vehicles, startups are beginning to emerge to build the next generation of this smart-charging technology. Seattle-based startup V2Green is a 10-month-old company that we’ve started hearing some interesting details about lately. The Seattle PI’s John Cook writes about the company this morning, and we just chatted with (update) co-founder and CEO David Kaplan as well as a V2Green spokesperson.
David Kaplan, a 12-year Microsoft (MSFT) veteran who helped build the SQL server business, co-founded the company to get an early jump on the software side of the plug-in vehicle industry. The company is just starting to field test its software and hardware, which sits in both the car and in the utility power station. The company needs to work with the plug-in car manufacturers and the utilities to get its technology to market, and Kaplan tells us he plans to announce the name of a utility who is doing a field trial next week.
V2Green’s technology will use wireless data networks — likely the cellular (EVDO) network for the early trials — as a 2-way connection to transfer information back and forth between the car and the grid. When the utility receives info that it can charge the plug-in customer at a slower rate, the theory is that the customer would be charged less. Broadband-connected cars are an increasingly common trend, and I’ve written about several startups that use various wireless broadband options to add various services to automobiles.
The PI story says Kaplan will have to raise outside funding and is considering fundraising options now. Kaplan tells us in 2008 the company will likely attempt to raise funding.
We decided to ask Felix Kramer from CalCars.org, one of the plug-in experts we chatted with for the last article, what he thinks about the opportunities for companies in the smart-charging space:
This is the right time for startups and established companies to start getting the controls and communications working for smart charging of plug-in cars. We expect these companies’ first customers will be government- and utility-sponsored demonstration programs. Initiatives are popping up all over the country to demonstrate the potential of fleets of plug-ins, first to level utilities’ demand, eventually for many other “vehicle-to-grid” services. — Felix Kramer, Founder CalCars.org
Kramer also points out that one problem is that current plug-in hybrid conversions don’t yet have two-way charging capabilities. And obviously smart charging will be a lot more important when major car companies start selling plug-in vehicles, and consumers can just buy one without a conversion.