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Summary:

For electric vehicles to become truly mainstream, utilities and auto makers need to partner on a variety of details. Here’s 5 reasons why car companies and utilities should be besties.

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For electric vehicles to become truly mainstream, utilities and auto makers need to partner on a variety of details to make sure the power grid keeps working well, consumers are happy with their new plug-ins and car companies can maintain warranties for electric cars that have been used as distributed grid energy storage. Some auto makers and power grid operators are already working together, for example, Ford has been reaching out to utilities, including Portland General Electric last month, and this morning CenterPoint Energy.

Here’s 5 reasons why car companies and utilities should be besties:

1). Enough charging infrastructure: While many in the EV industry think that the bulk of plug-in car charging will happen at homes, to calm fears of range anxiety (that the battery of an EV will be depleted and leave its driver stranded) utilities, private companies and cities will need to usher in the build out of public car charging stations. Companies like Coulomb Technologies, ECOtality and Better Place are already rolling out EV charging networks, but the car companies will need to direct them to pockets of potential EV owners and utilities need to be able to help enable intelligent software to manage the new loads in those geographies. In the U.S., there are currently about 1,800 public electric car charging stations, with most of them located in California.

2). Utilities As First Test Customers: As the nascent electric vehicle industry just starts to crack open — the first mainstream EV the Nissan LEAF just officially went on sale this month — utility fleets have often times been the first test case customers. Canadian startup REV has been quietly deploying what could be the largest vehicle-to-grid project in the world with an undisclosed Canadian utility. That utility (which is in a deregulated energy market) agreed to have REV convert part of its vehicle fleet from gas to all electric and REV owns and manages the fleet’s batteries, and provides the software and hardware to manage the battery charging. Likewise, California utilities PG&E, SCE and San Diego Gas & Electric have plans for EV fleets, too.

3). Consumer Outreach & Education: The car companies and utilities are two sectors that have long standing relationships with their customers, but are both relatively new to the electric car market. Thus car companies and utilities need to be on the same page in terms of consumer outreach and education. For example, a union should be developed around transparent marketing for EV range, warranty, whether to lease of buy, and general best practices.

4). An End-to-End Network: With the emergence of electric vehicles, electricity is the car’s fuel. That means an end-to-end network will be necessary to make sure that from the point of electricity generation at the power plant to when the car plugs in and “fills” its battery, the process is working correctly. Smart grid networking companies are expanding out to move into managing the edge of the network at the vehicle charger, and utilities will use software to dynamically let the cars know when and where it can charge up.

5). Standards, Standards, Standards: If anything was learned from the Internet age, it’s that standards are crucial to keep a network functioning. From the standards of the charger, to the connector on the car, to the car computer to the intelligent management software, each level of the network needs to be able to talk to the next to be able to ensure interoperability.

For more research on electric vehicles and IT management check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

IT Opportunities in Electric Vehicle Management

Why Microsoft’s Electric Vehicle Deal With Ford Matters

Is the Opt-Out Model the Future of Home Energy Management

  1. Katie,
    What is happening on the standards front? I know California was pushing standards earlier this summer.

    Do you know where that stands? Or, in general, are Standards getting enough play in your opinion?

    I’m worried that they are not.

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  2. One thing I have not heard mentioned in relation to electric car charging, will your local branch of the grid handle the load?

    My brother in law works at a power plant. He tells me that it is not uncommon in some neighborhoods that have a high adoption of tankless water heaters to overload their local grid on a regular basis. With these systems when you turn on the faucet it pulls 20+ amps from the grid to heat your water on demand. If several people on a local line install these heaters and they all get up and start taking hot showers @ 6am, they overload the circuit and blow the power for the neighborhood.

    Today this may not be all that common, after all shower times aren’t all that long so overlaps between neighbors may not be that common. But what happens when electric cars add another 20+ amp power usage that several people in the neighborhood plug in in their garage every night for 4 to 6 hours at a stretch?

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