Managing Electric Vehicles Like a Swarm of Bees

Many utilities are worried about how to manage the influx of electric vehicles that could start charging up on the power grid over the next few years. Will software that acts like a swarm of bees, a school of fish or a flock of birds, be the answer? That’s what Toronto-based startup Regen Energy is looking to find out. In a recent interview with Regen Energy’s co-founder and president, Mark Kerbel, he told us that the startup has been talking to utilities, particularly in California, about whether the company’s “swarm logic” software — based on the idea that each individual node makes a decision based on the actions of the group — would be a good way to manage intelligently charging electric vehicles.

Regen Energy’s flagship product is a wireless device that when coupled with software can reduce the energy consumption of HVAC systems and lighting in commercial buildings. The company has utility clients like Toronto Hydro, and over the past year has set its sights on working with utilities in California, which are interested in using Regen Energy’s technology as a way to help implement demand response programs, which enable utilities to work with power users to cut back their consumption during peak demand periods.

In large buildings, Regen Energy’s wireless nodes can be attached to appliances like air conditioners, and on hot afternoons, for example, a utility could send a command to the appliances to cut back on energy consumption. Kerbel says that a cellular modem connection can be placed on one of the nodes, and once a command is sent to the hardware via cellular connection, the swarm algorithm will prompt the other nodes to replicate the behavior. So even buildings that don’t have a centralized automated management system could be outfitted with Regen’s technology.

But the “smart charging” of electric vehicles would be a new market for the firm. The notion is that individual electric vehicles could be aware of what other vehicles are being charged at the same time and the charging could be managed dynamically in succession.

According to analyst John Gartner of Pike Research the market for “intelligent management” of electric vehicle charging could be as large as $297 million in the U.S. as of 2015. Globally, the revenue from EV management could climb to $1.5 billion in 2015, up from $383 million in 2010.

Gartner predicts that in particular, 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 Josie points out in this article (GigaOM Pro, subscription required), different types of plug-in vehicles will demand distinct business models — or at least a variation on models for V2G systems.

If Regen Energy could grab a piece of this market, it could get in while it’s still early, and effectively compete with larger, more well-funded companies like GridPoint, which bought smart charging startup V2Green back in 2008.

For more research on electric vehicle smart charging check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Report: IT Opportunities in Electric Vehicle Management

Image courtesy of wolfpix’s photostream.


Comments have been disabled for this post