We all know that to minimize the impact of global climate change we need to drastically reduce our combustion of fossil fuels. We can do that in a number ways including: increasing our use of renewables for electric power generation, moving to some other way of powering our automobiles, and embracing the use of systems thinking as we design our infrastructure moving forward. What I like about today’s story is that it combines all three of these.
The story is about a three-way partnership between IBM, Honda, and Pacific Gas & Electric to facilitate smart charging of electric cars in a way that makes maximum use of an increasingly smart grid for both distribution of power to customer and storage of transient power from renewables.
The aim of this partnership is to make electric vehicle charging, a simple, straightforward process with a reliable charging source and a stable infrastructure.
After all, ushering electric vehicles into a gas vehicle world could be a classic chicken and egg problem. No one would buy a car if there was no place to charge it and no one would invest in a charging station if there were no vehicles out there.
Fortunately, several large players in both private and public sectors, including the State of California, have stepped forward instead with an “if you build it, they will come,” mentality.
IBM has become a major player with their Smarter Planet initiative, acting as a kind of central nervous system, facilitating interactions between diverse entities and thereby enabling systemic efficiencies. In this case, they will provide an intelligent interconnection between drivers, their vehicles (with their current battery charge levels), with the power grid (and its current capacity level), multiplied by many vehicles. According to their info-graphic there will be approximately 2.9 million electric vehicles on the road five years from now.
The whole process will be performed in the cloud, where both grid and vehicle data will be combined to produce a charging schedule. The schedule is then immediately communicated back to the vehicle, giving the driver his optimal choices. Presumably, if the driver selects a different schedule, he might have to pay a higher rate.In this way, the electric vehicles in a given utility’s service area can combine to form one giant battery, that could be used to capture and store power from transient renewables, while at the same time, allowing the utility a certain amount of leeway in managing demand, since many, if not most customers will have enough flexibility in their day to accept the recommended charging schedule, which will be steering them away from periods of peak load. Of course, for this to work, the customer will also need to know how soon he would need the car and how far he would need to go.
There is a bit of a tradeoff here with electrics under this scenario, since you won’t necessarily be able to literally jump in your car at any time and just take off. One can imagine a situation where one might need to respond to an urgent, but unexpected occurrence. That would suggest that EV owners would always want to maintain at least some minimum charge level at all times, even if that means paying a little extra for peak time service.
The enclosed video demonstrates a similar program being piloted by IBM in Europe with Swiss utility EKZ.
[Image credit: ibm_media: Flickr Creative Commons]
RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.
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