Ford and Microsoft Team Up on Electric Vehicle Smart Charging

Ford is turning to Microsoft’s (s MSFT) home energy management tool Hohm to enable smart charging for its electric vehicles. Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced this morning at the New York International Auto Show that the automaker will deploy Hohm in its upcoming electric vehicles — starting with the Ford Focus next year — to manage battery charging. According to Mulally, the two companies are “automating and optimizing the process of when and where and how to charge your electric vehicle” and the partnership will be able to “help utilities better understand” the new demands on the electric grid that plug-in vehicles will bring. (Ford’s Product & Business Development Manager, Connected Services, Ed Pleet will be speaking at our Green:Net Conference on April 29).

“Without Hohm, there would be a proverbial traffic jam on the grid,” Microsoft’s Troy Batterberry said this morning at NYIAS. With the Hohm tool, battery charging will be managed based on factors including energy pricing and a consumer’s schedule, enabling drivers to get a full charge in the time they need (between 10pm and 7am, for example) at the lowest cost. (Batterberry will also be speaking at our Green:Net conference on April 29 in San Francisco).

Batteryberry said the Hohm tool will provide drivers with “remote and automated control,” and Ford announced that it’s working on an iPhone app to allow remote monitoring of a battery’s charge status, and charging controls — similar to the apps that General Motors (s GM) and Nissan (NSANY) have unveiled for their upcoming Chevy Volt and LEAF models. (For more on this, see Green Cars Are the Platform, Now Come the Applications).

How Hohm Works:

Here’s how Hohm’s basic service works: A consumer logs into the Hohm site, entering as little information as their Windows Live ID and their zip code. Taking this simple location information, Hohm uses algorithms licensed from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Department of Energy to start predicting the consumer’s home energy consumption. For the most accurate predictions possible, the consumer can answer up to 180 questions, ranging in topic from home size to water heater brand. Hohm will incorporate smart meter data as such tools are installed and used

Linking up with third party device makers represents “phase 2” for Hohm (phase 1 was launching the consumer-facing web portal and connecting the site with utility data), Batterberry told us. Microsoft has strategic partnerships with smart meter makers Itron (s ITRI) and Landis +Gyr, and Hohm has announced partnerships with several utilities. But as Mulally said this morning, “Ford is the first automaker to use Hohm for electric vehicles.”

But getting involved with electric vehicle smart charging could be one of the most interesting applications for Hohm in the future. Batterberry has told us that he thinks “electric vehicles are the killer app for the smart grid,” and because the cars will consume so much electricity and will need so much intelligence to manage, they will help usher in important intelligence services for the smart grid. And by linking up with an automaker like Ford, with its on-board communication system SYNC (developed by Microsoft), there’s potential to closely integrate the vehicle with home energy use (GigaOM Pro, subscription required).

Ford’s Derrick Kuzak described a platform this morning to enable drivers to get an alert in their car that electricity prices have spiked, and they could save money by turning off large appliances like a clothes drier. Then they’d have the option to shut down those appliances until energy prices drop. “We’re not there yet,” he said. But with today’s partnership with Microsoft Hohm, “We’re not far off.”

More from GigaOM Pro on the opportunities for the connected car (subscription required):

California Rules Show Opportunities in EV Charging

The App Developer’s Guide to Working with Ford Sync

How to Build Better Apps for Electric Vehicles

How Ford Sync Could Teach Cars to Talk to the Grid