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Ford Aims to Connect Its Plug-In Cars with Smart Meters by 2015

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ford-phevJust two months ago, Ford Motor (s F) launched a trial of a software system meant to enable communication between its plug-in vehicles and the power grid, by way of smart meters and a Zigbee wireless connection. At the time, Ford’s Nancy Gioia, recently named director of Ford Global Electrification, told us Ford would consider developing a production version of the system. While it won’t be ready for the first generation of plug-in vehicles, Gioia said today at an event in San Francisco, that “by 2013-2015, this ought to be rolling out.”

The idea of this “car-to-smart meter connectivity,” as Ford calls it, is to let vehicle owners program charging based on time and electricity rate preferences. Utilities like the idea of having plug-in vehicles programmed to charge at night. Demand is lower, and utilities can often tap into more wind energy than during the day, said Mark Duvall, Director of the Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) Electric Transportation team today at the Ford event.

EPRI is partnering with Ford, as well as the Department of Energy on the vehicle-to-grid trial, which is set to include 21 plug-in hybrid Ford Escape demo vehicles and run for three years. Several plug-in models are in the pipeline to come out before the demo is completed, including an all-electric commercial van called the Transit Connect next year, the Focus compact electric car in 2011 (pictured in the gallery, below) and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in 2012.

Duvall said EPRI favors all types of electrification, including all-electric or battery electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrids and hybrid electric vehicles. But he championed plug-in hybrids as the most flexible. “It stores its own power on board, and if you jump up in the middle of the night and need to go to Vegas,” he said, you can, since you can fill up at today’s gas stations.

In general, he added, plug-in hybrids also use about the same amount of electricity as all-electric vehicles, since a car like Ford’s plug-in hybrid Fusion “is on a mission to drain that battery.” The challenge comes from higher-power charging for all-electric cars, which can stress the distribution system.

Adding intelligence and opening communication between vehicles and the grid can only go so far. “Even the smartest charging system can have issues.” said Duvall. As more and more vehicles get plugged into the grid, some equipment will simply wear out faster. Investing in infrastructure upgrades “so it can support ever more plug-in vehicles is really an easy thing to do” for utilities, said Duvall, if, in response to reduced emissions and reliance on oil imports, “people perceive it as a social good.”