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Utilities Drive Connected Cars Into the Smart Grid

Jason Meyers

As part of the Internet of Things (IoT), the connected car will dispatch emergency services and provide passengers with a slew of navigation and infotainment apps. And thanks to collaboration between utilities and automakers, electric cars could also become part of the smart grid to help both power providers and drivers optimize power consumption.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has teamed with eight automakers and 15 US utilities to work toward a unified connection between utility power grids and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs).

"We wanted to look at more intelligent ways of charging vehicles -- matching energy needs to availability on the grid," says John Halliwell, principal project manager with EPRI.

The aim of the collaboration is to create an open platform that would allow utilities to connect to all PEVs, regardless of make, to communicate information like rates for off-peak or nighttime charging. The platform would also facilitate the integration of PEVs into automated metering infrastructure (AMI) and home area networks.

Having electric cars integrated into the smart grid can allow utilities to better manage power loads, says Haukur Asgeirsson, manager of power system technologies for DTE Energy Company (NYSE: DTE), one of the utilities involved in the initiative.

"If the electrical system is stressed and you want to reduce load, you can have a deal with customers that have PEVs and ask them to reduce charging," Asgeirsson says. "Each automotive company has their own telematics system. This will give us a central server that will allow utilities to communicate to all kinds of different vehicles for a demand response signal. It simplifies the process."

Watson Collins, manager of business development for Northeast Utilities, which is also involved in the project, says the resulting platform and server will give utilities a unified way to manage power consumption by electric vehicles on their systems.

"It enables a lot more flexibility. We can make sure we coordinate with the needs of the automakers and the customers who are charging their cars," he says. "We as utilities don't have to create our own solutions to communicate with each automaker."

For more on how utilities are using communications innovation, visit Light Reading's dedicated utility content channel.

Utilities involved include DTE, Duke Energy, PJM Interconnection, CenterPoint Energy, Southern Company, Northeast Utilities, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, San Diego Gas & Electric, Commonwealth Edison, TVA, Manitoba Hydro, Austin Energy, Con Edison, and CPS Energy.

Auto manufacturers involved are American Honda Motor Co., BMW Group, Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Company, General Motors , Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America.

Halliwell of EPRI says the first phase of the initiative is to start testing platforms using live data from utilities, with the goal of standardizing an approach that could be built into new PEVs.

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Utility Communications/IoT, Light Reading

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Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/29/2014 | 11:08:01 PM
Re: Tesla was left out?
Open-source isn't always cost-efficient.  There tends to be less documentation and less support.
User Rank: Light Beer
8/19/2014 | 5:26:44 PM
Re: Would this be a good problem?
@Joe S,

I understand. I guess in the end, cost savings is good & SHOULD trickle down...right?
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2014 | 4:33:27 PM
Tesla was left out?
I wonder why... if Tesla is "open sourcing" its charging tech, why utilities wouldn't want to include Tesla's tech...?
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/4/2014 | 7:35:45 AM
Re: reminders and alerts
@jasonmeyers: So are you saying that the people Instagramming their meals and texting while crossing the street are *smarter* for having smartphones?  :p
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/4/2014 | 7:34:35 AM
Re: Would this be a good problem?
I remember reading a lengthy article/study about how electric cars actually leave a larger carbon footprint than regular cars because of the manufacturing processes and the materials used to make them.  All buying an electric car does, in essence, is move pollution out of wealthier neighborhoods and into poorer neighborhoods -- while increasing it.

Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/4/2014 | 7:31:06 AM
Re: Would this be a good problem?
@pcharles: I was being sarcastic... but you bring up a good point that's just as applicable to the smart grid.  I think the utilities are betting (and I think it's a safe bet) that while they will get more of a "balance" with proper incentives to use electricity during off-peak hours, it won't skew the other way -- or, if it does, that will just change the definition of "off-peak," and the pendulum will swing the other way.

In any case, it's a cost-savings for all involved in the long run.
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/2/2014 | 7:13:07 PM
Re: Would this be a good problem?
This is an interesting article. Many people who have electric vehicles are taking from a different resource - it may not be fossil fuel, but in some cases, through the electric grid it is.

I get the concept of reduction here, however, since the car itself, by being electric, is not emitting pollution. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/1/2014 | 7:50:00 PM
Re: reminders and alerts
@telecomtails, you make good distinctions with IoT being machine-to-machine communication that creates a digital connection for devices, and the "smart" alerts and information capabilities with Smart Grids, etc.

I think you are right about the business opportunities.  The Smart Grid can be a platform for apps (of course, advertising will be an opt-in/out at some point as well).  But helping us remember and/or respond to actions needed, is a good thing.
User Rank: Lightning
8/1/2014 | 11:15:17 AM
Re: reminders and alerts
Hey - sign me up too
User Rank: Blogger
8/1/2014 | 10:56:18 AM
Re: reminders and alerts
You're right - one of the values of the smart network is that it could help me be less dumb. 
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