SAP talks e-mobility!

I visited SAP’s facilities recently on their energy efficiency day and talked to them about their e-mobility initiatives and the rollout of their 16 Coulomb Technologies electric vehicle level 2 charging stations for their employees.

Tom Raftery: Hi everyone! Welcome to the GreenMonk TV. With me, today, I have Geoff Ryder from SAP and Henry Bailey also from SAP. Guys, we are at the SAP headquarters, here, in California, Palo Alto, because Geoff ?

Geoff Ryder: So, we started earlier this year taking a survey of all of our employees and are they interested in electric vehicles. It turned out they are. About 200 said they are in the market for one. So, how can we deal with that as a company? We can take advantage of that to show sustainability, thought leadership, we can also make this appealing to our employees, appealing place to work. So, you?re seeing today the culmination of our planning process. We are deploying 16 Coulomb Technologies charging sessions. These are level 2 charging stations, they?ll be across campus. And we?ll also —

Coulomb Technologies Level 2 electric vehicle charging station

Coulomb Technologies Level 2 electric vehicle charging station

Tom Raftery: Level 2 charging stations, means what?

Geoff Ryder: It?ll be 240 volts, that?s the voltage that you run your dryer off of. So, that?s very capable. It can charge the battery in a faster time than if you trickle charge with 120 volts. So, we think that?s probably the way it?s going to go. People will want to see that in their public charging option. Even at home, I think we?ll see you know Level 2 charging stations coming.

So, today, we?ve actually turned our first charging stations on and as you can see we have a small fleet of electric cars here.

We have our partners from Nissan with LEAF. We have a plug-in Hybrid Prius, we have a Chevy Volt, and further down, it?s hard to see, here but we have a CODA Automotive, a demonstration car.

Tom Raftery: Okay.

Geoff Ryder: Yeah.

Tom Raftery: Henry you?re involved with the e-mobility solutions, so ?

Henry Bailey: Correct.

Tom Raftery: What?s that exactly?

Henry Bailey: So, what we have done is we have looked at — as Geoff mentioned, we?ve got our employees interested in electric vehicles.

We also have a lot of our customers interested in the how to deploy electric vehicles primarily utilities looking at how do they manage the infrastructure when these vehicles start showing up in their service territories.

So, as people buy electric vehicles, they drive them home, now suddenly they?re plugging them into the Grid, which in some cases using the Level 2 charging station that Geoff described could look like another small home being plugged into the Grid.

So, the Utilities have a couple of opportunities, they need to look at how do they manage this new load coming on to the Grid and then also with the purchasing of energy by the home owner and maybe by third parties who are offering these charging stations at retail outlets, parking garages of businesses how do they, basically, settle those charges back to the consumer so that they can, basically, charge anywhere they want roaming freely around the country if you will.

Tom Raftery: The example being, if I go to the local supermarket and plug-in there, how does that charge appear on my electricity bill?

Henry Bailey: Exactly, but there may be different types of settlement options that the consumer wants. They may want it come back to their home energy bill as a separate line item, so they can see exactly what their energy usage is both when they plug it into their home as well as when they are roaming around to different shopping malls, grocery stores, as you are talking about.

They may also want to settle it to the credit cards, they may want to settle it to cell phones and have it as a part of that infrastructure. So, we?re looking at all different options and we also see businesses taking advantage because – take the mall, for example. If you can attract people with electric vehicles to come and stay maybe an extra hour or two giving them some sort of incentive to stay that hour or two by either the convenience and/or electricity at maybe low or no cost to them directly, then that entices them to stay longer, shop more.

So, they?re looking at it as a way to incent the customers to come and visit their place of business.

Tom Raftery: Excellent. Guys, thanks very much.

Geoff Ryder: Thank you.


Ford discusses their Electric Vehicle and smart grid integration plans

Just before Christmas I had a chat with Ford’s head of battery electric vehicle applications, Greg Frenette. We discussed how Ford has been working with utilities and industry organisations to ready its electric vehicles for deep integration into smart grids.

It was fascinating for me to see just how far Ford have proceeded with their thinking on this.

Here’s the transcript of our conversation.

Tom Raftery: Hi everyone and welcome to GreenMonkTV. My guest in the show today is Greg Frenette. Greg is the Manager of Battery Electric Vehicle Applications for the Ford Motor Company. Greg let’s start of with a bit of historical background. Ford have been looking at electric vehicles for some time now; I think 2005 was when you started looking at electric vehicles and smart grid integration. Were you working on electric vehicles even before that?

Greg Frenette: Oh! Sure, we’ve been working on electric vehicles for over 20 years, in our research organization primarily. And when I say electric, I talk about not only battery electric, but fuel cell electric vehicles. But it was in 2007 when we decided to explore a demonstration fleet of plug-in vehicles, plug-in hybrids that we started thinking very seriously about the integration of those vehicles with the grid and in July 2007 announced a partnership with Southern California Edison, which has since grown to a partnership with about 12 different utilities and industry organizations.

Tom Raftery: What is the basis of that partnership, I mean Southern Cal Edison is a utility company, is it that you are test bedding your electric vehicles to see how they fit in with smart grids or what’s the basis of the partnership?

Greg Frenette: That’s exactly it. We’ve got some very high-fidelity Ford Escape production vehicles that have been modified with Lithium-Ion battery packs and charging systems and we’re really exploring what the interaction of that vehicle with the grid is like. We are trying to get a better understanding of the win-win solutions between industries that’ll be necessary in order to commercialize plug-in hybrids as well as full battery electric vehicles.

Tom Raftery: From the research, what are you guys seeing, how well do electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles — how well do they integrate with smart grids?

Greg Frenette: I think the opportunity is tremendous. With our plug-in Escape fleet of about 21 vehicles that we’ve deployed across North America we’re now in the process of setting up communications and actually demonstrating communications between the vehicles and smart meters which are becoming more and more available today in the market.

So we are finding that whole idea of how a vehicle interfaces with the grid is more than simply plugging it in; there’s an opportunity to communicate and an opportunity for the consumer – automotive consumer, electric consumer to make choices and to communicate those choices back and forth from the vehicle to the grid and vice versa.

I’ll give you an example; if you are sitting in one of our plug-in Escape prototypes, hybrid prototypes, today, what you’d find is if you decided you didn’t want to start charging until the rates are cheaper say around midnight or so you could tell the vehicle don’t charge until then, or if you wanted a full charge by a certain time in order to return home or whatever you could then dictate that, communicate it through the vehicle to a smart meter that would then modulate the charges such a way to meet your needs.

Tom Raftery: Interesting! So you are basically shifting your consumption to match times when electricity is less expensive.

Greg Frenette: You can do that; you can also, though, if you are plugged in and you don’t have a need for a particular charging and you have some freedom flexibility, you can indicate that you are willing to accept interruptible service in order to, again, reduce the cost of charging your vehicle. So that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the, sort of, communications that will become available in vehicles and the, kind of, capability we’ll have to really interact with the grid and dictate how we use energy with vehicles.

Tom Raftery: One of the other issues around integration of Battery Electric Vehicles and smart grids is the billing. So say if I go and visit somebody else, some cousins or some neighbours or some family or something and they live a couple of hours away and I need to charge to get home, can I plug in my vehicle in to their electric outlets and have it billed back to my account, is that — are you working on those kinds of integrations as well?

Greg Frenette: Absolutely! One of the real beauties of Ford partnering with a number of utilities across North America is we are exploring those sorts of scenarios and so this whole idea of mobile billing, how that occurs how it takes place is something we are exploring along with a number of other interface opportunities and challenges that we want to face and work out together.

Tom Raftery: Another issue that people raise around electric vehicles is if an electric vehicle is being charged by a utility who are burning coal are they outputting more CO2 than they would if the same car was running off gas?

Greg Frenette: Well that scenario could certainly present itself. One of the things — one of the opportunities that may present itself in how consumers interact with the grid is you may dictate through your vehicles or through an interface at the meter — you may dictate that you want the greenest form of charging.

In other words you will dictate that you will charge at times when the least the amount of coal is being burnt and perhaps other sources of energy are being made available to the grid. So that sort of thinking is something that we are currently engaged at. At the end of the day, though, the total environmental solution is more than a solution at the tailpipe of the vehicle. It has to be what we call a wells-to-wheels solution, and so the energy industry sees the role, I think, they need to play in helping drive emissions down, helping us really improve the environment together.

Tom Raftery: Okay, one last question Greg. When will I see a Ford Battery Electric Vehicle in the showroom?

Greg Frenette: Well, our current plans, today, call for Ford Transit Connect Battery Electric Vehicles to begin coming off our production line at the end of next year (2010).

The following year, 2011, we are currently scheduled to be putting out a full electric Ford Focus Battery Electric Vehicle and then our plans beyond then, 2012 and beyond, call for a plug-in hybrid, a version of the vehicles that we are currently running in demonstration today. So we are not talking about a long-term reality here; what we are really talking about is vehicles that are currently under design and development and will be deployed out in to the public very shortly.

Tom Raftery: Superb Greg, that’s been fantastic. Thanks for agreeing to come on the show.


Ford’s thinking on Electric Vehicles

Thomas Edison And Henry Ford
Photo of Thomas Edison and Henry ford courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Recently I spoke with Greg Frenette, the manager of Ford’s Electric Vehicle program and he filled me in on just how long Ford have been working on electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technologies. Although not as long as may be indicated in the photo above, Ford’s Advanced Engineering Research group have been working on concepts with respect to plug-in hybrids since 2005.

Ford’s initial utility partners in their plug-in hybrid program were Southern California Edison but they soon expanded the program to include the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) as well as a grouping of 10 utilities and research organisations across North America.

This quarter Ford will complete the build-out and deployment to the partner organisations of their fleet of 20 plug-in hybrid Escape’s. These vehicles are demo’ing real world vehicle-to-grid interconnectivity. According to Greg they have

a prototype communication control system on the vehicle which works with a Smart Meter, through the use of wireless Zigbee technology, to give the vehicle owner control and direction in how they access the charge

Part of this limited roll-out is to look closely at the bigger infrastructure issues – what does it mean to introduce EVs onto the grid? What standards will be adopted? What upgrades will be necessary in technology & infrastructure to connect these vehicles both at home and in public to the grid?

Speaking about the integration of the vehicles onto the grid, Greg said:

We can envision how the car will be integrated into the smart home of the future and how the home-owner would have the ability to make trade-offs and decisions that involve the vehicle as well as the energy budget for the rest of the household

It is spectacular to hear that (at least one of) the car manufacturers is thinking about the implications of the rollout of smart grids, realtime pricing tariffs and integrating electric vehicles onto the grid. As I have said before, if a country has a large fleet of electric vehicles, they have the capacity to act as a distributed battery for energy storage at even greater than utility scales. In fact, the Rocky Mountain Institute goes further when they say:

Utilities sell a disproportional amount of their power on hot summer afternoons. At night, business plummets. For the utility, that means their expensive generation and transmission equipment stands idle. “Night-charging” vehicles, therefore, could be a lucrative twist on the business of selling electrons.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently estimated that if half the nation’s light vehicles were ordinary plug-in hybrids they would represent a night-charging market of 230 gigawatts. That’s good news for the U.S. wind industry. In many areas, wind tends to blow harder at night, creating more energy when the vehicles would be charging.

With full vehicle to grid integration those same vehicles could sell back some of their energy to the grid on those hot summer afternoons, when electricity is expensive and potentially prevent the firing up of more expensive and dirty generation.

Even better was that Greg brought up something most others shy away from discussing – the old data ownership question! According to Greg Ford believes that:

The consumer is a key stakeholder when it comes to the data. The communications control capability has to be part of the total value equation to the automotive consumer as well as the energy consumer. Ford is looking for win-win solutions between utility industry, between the auto industry that ultimately provide increased value to both of our customers

Ford wants an open architecture communication solution which has to have “direct consumer applicability, marketability and value to be worthwhile”.

If Ford succeed in rolling out that vision, I’ll be first in line!

Ford are introducing the first fully electric cars to the market in 2010 – 2011 while their first plug-in hybrids will come to market in 2012.

Ford are also looking beyond electric vehicles. They have had a fleet of 30 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on-road with customers since 2005 with over 1,000,000 miles on them. Ford see electric as a medium term solution to sustainable transport but hydrogen as the longer term goal.

Personally, I’m not convinced about the viability of hydrogen as a solution – especially if IBM can crack the lithium air battery they are working on.


Would you buy a car if you had an option to (electric) car share?

Photo Credit Cayetano

I live in Seville, Spain and this town has a wonderful community bike rental program called Sevici. This is run by the town council and JCDecaux and use of these bicycles is free for the first 30 minutes and in the order of €1 per hour thereafter.

You use an RFID card to access the bicycles and you take bikes from, and return them to stations throughout the city like the one in the photo above. When you return the bike to a station, it is automatically recognised and locked.

Now what if you took this concept and married it with the idea of Car Sharing? And, what if all the cars in the car sharing program were electric (or plug-in hybrids) so that when you returned the car to its station, it plugged itself in and started to charge?

While a model like this wouldn’t work well in a suburban area, if you lived in a city center and had access to something like this, you might never need to buy a car. For cities trying to reduce their levels of pollution, levels of congestion or their carbon footprint, a scheme like this would seem to be a very appropriate step to consider.

A plan like this could also help with electricity grid stabilisation using vehicle to grid technologies.

Would you buy a car if you had an option to (electric) car share?


What if electricity were like the Internet?

Power Lines
Photo Credit Bob Fornal

So, Nick Carr writes regularly about cloud computing and how the Internet is heading more and more towards the same model as the utilities. And he’s right. And this is a good thing.

Now let’s turn that on its head.

When will the utilities start to become more like the Internet? Specifically, when will disparate, disconnected electrical grids join up to give us one global electricity super-grid?

Can you imagine the resilience of a massively connected super-grid? One which can route around problems.

Then think about how much more stable the super-grid would be if the excess energy produced by, for instance, Scandanavian wind farms on windy nights could simply be sold to meet capacity shortages in the US as people arrive home from work, or in Japan as they start to wake up.

What if the grid were smart, publishing prices in real-time, based on supply and demand fluctuations?

And further, what if smart meters in homes and businesses could adjust appliances based on the real-time pricing (thermostats up/down, devices on/off, etc.)?

And what if, again like the Internet, the super-grid were read/write i.e. if you could be a producer as well as a consumer? Think plug-in hybrid vehicles, for example. In times of more abundant electrical supply when energy is cheap or negatively priced (sun shining on Spanish PhotoVoltaic arrays and/or wind blowing on Northern European wind farms), plug-in hybrids could suck in electricity and act as a distributed electrical storage mechanism. Several hours later, if the wind dies down, or the sun sets electricity prices jump and the smart meters realise it is now financially advantageous for plug-in hybrids to sell electricity back to the grid. So they do.

What if most of the technologies to make this happen already existed? How long will it be before the utilities embrace the Internet model in the same way the Internet is jumping on the utility model?

UPDATE: Simon Wardley writes that:

According to wikipedia, “the concept of an interconnected global grid linked to renewable resources was first suggested by Buckminster Fuller” in the 1970s.

There are even organisations such as the Global Energy Network Institute (GENI) who apparently have been working on the “viability of the interconnection of electric power networks between nations”.

This subject deserves a higher profile.

It seems I am in august company!


Energy Demand Management on TV!

Well, TechWebTV! I was over in Las Vegas this week attending EnergyCamp and InterOp.

I spoke about Energy Demand Management (EDM) at EnergyCamp and was pleasantly surprised at the level of interest in this topic. In fact there was so much interest that TechWebTV asked if I would go on camera to discuss EDM with Fritz Nelson!

It is a very brief discussion of quite a complex concept. We never really got into discussing the industrial implications of demand stimulation, for example. What will you do when energy prices fluctuate based on supply and demand? When electricity is extremely cheap or even negatively priced would it make sense to create hydrogen, only to burn it for power later when electricity prices go back up?

Or how about governments and/or utilities? Shouldn’t they be massively subsidizing plug-in hybrids so they can act as distributed storage (a nationwide battery) sucking in power when there is an excess and selling it back to the grid when supply starts falling off?