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Juggling the Electric Car Influx: A $1.5B Job

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The sale of 800,000 plug-in vehicles during the next five years could create a whole mess of challenges for utilities, automakers and consumers, but IT companies have a shot at building new businesses to help ease the pain of that influx, according to a new report out today on GigaOM Pro (IT Opportunities in Electric Vehicle Management, subscription required).

Analyst John Gartner of Pike Research anticipates that a growing need for “intelligent management” of electric vehicle charging will create a $297 million industry in the U.S. as of 2015. That forecast encompasses the market for tech ranging from applications, servers, networking equipment and other hardware, to ongoing services for collecting and monitoring data about vehicle charging. Globally, he expects revenue from EV management to climb to $1.5 billion in 2015, up from $383 million in 2010.

This market isn’t just about managing electricity, Gartner notes — it’s also about collecting, processing and protecting a massive influx of data related to plug-in vehicles, including financial information and charging preferences.

The market for management of charging customers’ information, in particular, will be highly fragmented, says Gartner, “as information will be distributed via utilities, in-vehicle information systems, and web and mobile applications.” Independent software vendors, billing management firms and companies dedicated specifically to electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), will likely vie for business in this space.

According to Gartner’s analysis, vehicle-to-grid, or V2G, programs, in which hundreds to thousands of aggregated electric vehicle batteries provide energy storage and stabilizing services for grid operators, (with electricity and data flowing two ways between cars and the power grid) will kick off in earnest in 2015. But, as I’ve noted in another article on Pro today looking at how to find your niche in the electric vehicle market, different types of plug-in vehicles will demand distinct business models — or at least a variation on models for V2G systems.

Service providers will need to account for differences (such as the size of the battery pack and how much energy a vehicle owner can afford to have drained from the battery in an all-electric vehicle vs. plug-in hybrid) in their algorithms and efforts to attract, educate and structure effective incentives for customers in different segments of the EV market.

The fact that electric vehicles represented a niche segment in a time when many automakers thought of themselves as mass marketers is part of the reason plug-ins “stumbled” in the 1990s, UC Berkeley researcher Brent Williams commented on a recent panel hosted by Agrion in Palo Alto, Calif. These days, Williams says automakers are thinking more like tech startups, vying for a foothold in the still-niche market of plug-in vehicles. While that means more competition, it also means more opportunities for startups to get in the game through smart alliances, filling niches within the EV market by supplying charging, billing and management systems for apartment complexes and building developers, for example, or building the online user interface for consumers to check whether a smart charging service is really getting them lower electricity rates.

Gartner predicts that startups such as GridPoint or Silver Spring Networks, working on the backbone platform for managing EVSEs and communicating data to utilities, will end up dominating the smart charging management space, while systems integrators like IBM (s IBM), Accenture and SAP (s SAP) will dominate data analytics for electric vehicles as a subset of smart grid initiatives.

Learn more about opportunities for IT in the nascent electric vehicle market at our Green:Net event on April 29 in San Francisco, and in these new GigaOM Pro articles (subscription required):

Photos courtesy of GM and Aerovironment

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