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Ford Launches Vehicle-to-Grid Software Trial for Plug-in Hybrids

It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of big automakers, but in the coming rollout of plug-in vehicles intended for the mass market, software and communication between vehicles and the power grid will be a key piece of the puzzle. Today Ford (s F), which has partnered with utilities, the Electric Power Research Institute and the Department of Energy, pulled back the curtain on a 3-year demonstration project to test out vehicle-to-grid software for plug-in hybrid vehicles.


While the automaker has so far only provided Ohio utility American Electric Power (s AEP) with vehicles loaded with the new software, Ford expects to install the system on all 21 of its plug-in hybrid Escape demo vehicles by the end of the year. Ford’s Nancy Gioia, the automaker’s director of sustainable mobility technologies and hybrids, tells us it will consider developing a production version of the system. And Greg Frenette, who manages Ford’s electric vehicle program, says the communication system is being considered for the all-electric Ford Focus slated for 2011 and a plug-in hybrid model slated for 2012.

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of word from Nissan (s NSANY) that its upcoming LEAF electric sedan will be equipped with remote controls to let vehicle owners start and stop charging using a smartphone. Ford’s system, meanwhile, will allow drivers to program charging based on time and electricity rate preferences; the vehicle will employ smart meters and have a touchscreen interface built right in. And when it’s plugged in, battery packs will be able to “communicate directly with the electrical grid via smart meters provided by utility companies through wireless networking,” according to Ford, with drivers programming settings on the touchscreen using the so-called Ford Work Solutions onboard computer.

According to Gioia, the communication system now hitting the demonstration stage stems from concepts already built for Ford Work Solutions, as well as the company’s Sync (developed by Microsoft (s MSFT)) and SmartGauge with Eco Guide technology. We’ve written over on GigaOM Pro (subscription required) about how Ford’s Sync technology, rolled out last year, can be used to teach cars to talk to the grid.

The Sync system represents one of the largest deployments of vehicle intelligence to date, though so far it’s primarily been used to give drivers online vehicle “Health Reports” and software upgrades, as well as to control car stereos and mobile phones with voice commands. Gioia told us earlier this year, however, that the technology could be used for communication tools and services needed for vehicle-grid integration. ford-PHEV_UI

This new demo is also being announced less than two weeks after the DOE awarded Ford $100 million in grants to support various plug-in vehicle projects. According to Frenette, “The scope of the technical development effort co-funded by the DOE grant is under discussion between Ford and DOE,” and no final decision has been made about whether or how much grant money will be used to support this new project.

Three years may seem like a long time to have this technology in a demonstration phase, given that plug-in vehicles targeted for the mass market are rolling out next year, but it’s not such a long stretch in the context of Ford’s expectation (as explained by Gioia in July) that we’re more than a decade away from having a large-scale vehicle-to-grid system.

12 Responses to “Ford Launches Vehicle-to-Grid Software Trial for Plug-in Hybrids”

  1. The vehicle-to-grid communication technology is helping the battery serve as a storage to prevent the costly blackout standing at about $90 to 100bn per year. That means utilities are shedding cost for additional storage facilities and ratepayers are selling electricity for peak hours so that EVs can make more economic sense, as we know.

    It is also in the best interest of electricity utilities that EVs are going mainstream, thereby they need to put in charge stands where needed around highways, major roads with card readers or cell phone tech.

  2. this is just one more news article that disproves another baseless myth about electric vehicles- not to mention that as the demand for electricity grows, so will the grid. Electric cars are safe, clean, and efficient. And, with electric cars we can save our economy (using domestic energy, lowering our trade deficit, building jobs), while also helping reduce pollution. Electric cars are the future- as soon as affordable ones are on the market. For an insightful, readable, and eye-opening introduction to the benefits and history of electric cars, I recommend the book “Two Cents Per Mile” by Nevres Cefo. Did you know that electric cars have been driving on u.s. roads for over a decade? (check out the Toyota RAV4-ev!). Check out and to learn more

  3. Marc,

    It would be great if that’s the case, but I just don’t believe EESTOR.
    If it was true, it would change EVERYTHING, not just automobiles or V2G. If EESTOR was true, we’d likely not even need a grid in the sense we have one today.

    But again, I’m not holding my breath. I think they made a mistake in assessing their technology and have not come clean about this. A few others have figured out what probably happened:

  4. Jim,

    Check out ZENN and Eestor. They are about to go public with a new ultra-capacitor battery that is cheaper to produce, quicker to charge, and totally outperforms any lithium-ion based battery being conceived of today.

    This is the game changer that will make Vehicle-to-Grid happen.

  5. Vehicle-to-Grid (electric cars temporarily storing renewable energy) will likely never happen. When Gioia says 2020, she’s saying “never”, but in a polite way. Power stored and used in that manner would simply be too expensive, unless batteries become much less expensive and more longer living.

    Instead, a bunch of plugged-in vehicles could form a sheddable load which could allow for more intermittent renewable sources on the grid with less destabilization. That would still be pretty good.