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Summary:

ECOtality and Cisco are joining forces to manage home energy and car charging in a way that consumers and utilities can use. The first systems could be deployed by year’s end via the DOE-funded EV Project.

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By 2020, there will be nine times the amount of data associated with the digital power grid, and a solid chunk of that will come from plugging in cars. Companies are teaming up now to deliver the future of networked EVs, including router giant Cisco and electric car charging company ECOtality, which announced on Monday that they’ve partnered to develop home and car charging information in a combined system for consumers and utilities to use.

Just how long it will take the partners to move the technology from R&D to commercial market isn’t yet clear. But the two expect to see a combined car charging-home energy management platform installed in U.S. homes via the federally funded EV Project by the end of the year, according to Colin Read, ECOtality’s VP of corporate development.

The partnership will basically link ECOtality’s Blink charging station to Cisco’s home energy controller system. Cisco, in turn, will provide smart grid connections back to utilities, and work with various utility and technology partners to devise ways to monitor, manage and control that charging to keep costs low for homeowner and utility alike, said Paul Fulton, director of Cisco’s Prosumer business unit.

The Cisco-ECOtality partnership is just the latest in a long line of networking and power giants picking their preferred EV charging players. General Electric is making both home energy management systems and car charging stations with consumer display and control systems from partner Juice Technology, and could be expected to link them up in the future. Silver Spring Networks is working with ClipperCreek for its electric car charging play and has its own home energy management software. German engineering giant Siemens has a co-marketing deal with Coulomb Technologies to sell Siemens’ smart grid IT along with Coulomb’s charging station technology and battery swapping station startup Better Place has a partnership with GE.

ECOtality is also working with Sprint to link its Blink stations, and has a manufacturing and North American supply agreement with Swiss power gear giant ABB.

Linking the Home and the EV

The idea of Cisco and ECOtality’s product is to offer a visual display to help consumers charge their cars when electricity prices are low, which tends to be the same times that utilities have an excess, rather than a shortage, of available power. That’s usually at night, versus during the peak power-usage times that come in the morning or in late afternoon and early evening.

“If a consumer is not already aware of what their energy and electrical costs are, we think they’re going to become acutely aware of that once they purchase an EV,” Read said. At the same time, utilities will have to tightly manage EVs plugging into their grids, which add the equivalent of a typical household electrical load to the grid when they’re charging.

ECOtality plans to install some 8,300 home car chargers via its participation in the EV Project, a Department of Energy, Nissan and General Motors-backed collaborative with big deployments in Arizona, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Ore. and several other West Coast cities, as well as in Texas, Tennessee and Washington, D.C.. How many of those will be connected to Cisco home energy and smart grid systems remains to be seen, but Read said that by year’s end, at least some of them will be.

ECOtality is also testing out various different power pricing schemes with EV Project partners, including San Diego Gas & Electric, which could then be communicated to homeowners via Cisco’s home energy dashboards, he said. As for more advanced applications, like tapping plug-in car batteries to supply the grid with power during times of stress, Read said that’s something the partnership may target in the second half of this decade. (For an in-depth study on the challenge EVs will present to utilities, check out this 2008 Oak Ridge National Laboratory study (PDF)).

Car charging makers tackling the home-charging market are also going to be pressed to include homeowner data and control features to differentiate themselves in what otherwise could be considered a commodity market. Gartner predicts that electric vehicle supply equipment, including both home and commercial charging stations, will grow to a nearly $400 million industry by 2015, but with giants like GE, Siemens and Schneider Electric getting in the game, startups will have tough competition ahead.

As for Cisco, the ECOtality partnership represents one of its first strategic partnerships on the smart grid front, Fulton said. The networking giant is working with a number of utilities, including San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy and Germany’s Yellostrom, on a variety of smart grid systems, but has kept pretty quiet about its other various corporate and startup partners.

To learn more about the tools needed for the era of “Big Data,” beyond just the power grid, come check out our Big Data conference in New York on March 23!

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Image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson via Creative Commons license.

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