Plug in anywhere — on the road, at a friend’s house, in a public parking lot — and add the cost of topping off your electric car’s battery to your monthly utility bill. That’s the idea of an intelligent mobile charger developed by Juice Technologies, an eight-person company founded early last year, and soon to be used in a project with Sempra Energy’s utility San Diego Gas & Electric.
Juice and SDG&E are now gearing up to demo the technology as part of the massive electric vehicle infrastructure trial that won support from the DOE this week and is timed for the initial rollout of Nissan’s 2010 LEAF electric sedan. Next week Juice will reportedly unveil a prototype of the device at the Plug In 2009 conference in Long Beach, Calif.
The reasoning behind this kind of off-board metering device, sized to fit in a typical trunk, isn’t just to make life easier for electric car owners. According to SDG&E Clean Transportation manager Bill Zobel, it could also “significantly reduce the cost of charging infrastructure over the long term.”
The new device, carrying Juice’s Plug Smart brand, combines technology from both the startup and the utility. Zobel told us in an interview that the utility patented some smart mobile charging tech, and then sought out options to develop it for real-world testing. “We could develop it ourselves, go to the VC community, or go with a developer,” he said.
Columbus, Ohio-based Juice, he said, snagged the demo agreement because SDG&E found that Juice, which is a spin-out from two-year-old BottomLine Resource Technologies, had an existing tech that could improve the utility’s concept, offered the best financial terms, and had a good track record of developing new products. “They had a similar technology but different,” he explained. “Blending made a stronger product.”
Describing itself as a project management and consulting firm, Juice says on its web site that it’s trying to capitalize on “significant market opportunities for advanced ‘intelligent’ devices in the utility space,” through products and services timed for mass deployment by early next year, with an emphasis on electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle tech. (The company declined to answer questions for this post.)
Exactly how the mobile charging device will interact with the grid remains an open question — this is a demonstration project, after all, so it’s all about collecting and evaluating data. Zobel tell us SDG&E plans to experiment with different communication networks, test and refine the security of users’ data and account information in the system, and work to ensure that the metering is accurate.
There’s also potential for this kind of technology to help link vehicles to more than the power grid. SDG&E vice president of customer solutions Hal Snyder said in a release about the demo project this week, “Mobile smart-charging communication devices…ultimately will allow customers to charge their electric vehicles and track their energy usage and carbon footprint through the Web or a cellular phone, when used in conjunction with a utility smart meter.”
If the demonstration proves successful (the partners have set “soft benchmarks” at this point — Zobel declined to provide more detail), then Juice and SDG&E may consider negotiating an agreement to share IP for a “full deployment” of the device. The heat’s on: Zobel said that while he doesn’t know of any companies working on similar devices at this point, “when you get something this good, more than one entrepreneur is looking at it.”