Nissan, GE Link Smart Grid, Electric Car Forces

A conglomerate that’s already a major player in the energy industry and striving to match that role in the smart grid, and an automaker that aims to dominate the electric vehicle market, have joined forces at the intersection of their ambitions: smart charging for plug-in vehicles. General Electric (s GE) and Nissan announced this morning that they plan to work together to research the impact of electric vehicles on the power grid and technology for smart charging (using digital intelligence to control the rate and time at which electricity flows into vehicle batteries in order to help minimize costs and strain on the power grid).

Nissan and GE note two general areas for potential collaboration, including the integration of electric cars with homes and buildings. Secondly the pair plans to develop projects in the area of “electric vehicle charging dynamics with the larger electric grid.” GE scientist Matt Nielsen explains in a blog post this morning that GE and Nissan aim to take a close look at ways to connect vehicles to buildings and homes, as well as how to aggregate large numbers of vehicles, so that charging can play a “synergistic role” with the grid.

According to Nielsen, the program will attempt to quantify the impact of electric vehicles and charging through modeling, simulation and experimental data collection. As more specific projects emerge under these general focus areas, GE plans to work out of its Niskayuna, New York research center and Nissan expects to base its research at its Farmington Hills, Mich. technical center with support from its Japan office.

Earlier this year GE agreed to work on smart charging initiatives with startup Juice Technologies, with GE designing and manufacturing charging equipment for electric vehicles and supplying metering and communication tech to link utilities with the charging device. Juice, meanwhile, agreed to contribute on the consumer side of things, providing the online system that will allow a plug-in electric vehicle owner to schedule specific times to charge.

Nissan, too, has already formed partnerships in this space. The automaker, which plans to start selling its electric LEAF sedan in North America later this year, signed on AeroVironment (s AVAV) in January to provide home charging equipment and installation services for the LEAF. And Nissan is working with EV charging system provider eTec (a subsidiary of ECOtality) to roll out 4,700 LEAF sedans and some 12,750 charging stations in five states, with nearly $100 million in federal grant money.

The market for EV charging equipment and tech is poised take off in the next several years, and companies like Nissan and GE are lining up their forces to have a strong position in that market. According to a report by analyst John Gartner published this morning on GigaOM Pro (subscription required), utilities and EV-service providers will steadily increase their investments in IT related to electric car management over the next five years. Gartner predicts that electric vehicle supply equipment — including wall-mounted charge points for homes as well as commercial charging stations — will grow to a nearly $400 million industry by 2015.

New related content on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Finding a Niche in the Electric Vehicle Market

Report: IT Opportunities in Electric Vehicle Management