‘Generals’ Devise Tactics for Grid-EV Collision

By · July 25, 2011

OnStar Smart Grid

The intersection of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and the smart grid has prompted many partnerships, but none may create more impact than General Motors and General Electric getting together. Each company is evolving the communications platform in its relative domains to enable interaction with the other, which could provide a vital link between vehicles and grid equipment.

General Motors’ OnStar announced at the Plug-In 2011 conference, that the company’s wireless vehicle communications platform is being connected to General Electrics’ Grid IQ Demand Optimization System. Data from thousands of Chevrolet Volt PHEVs will be made accessible to GE’s software, which is used by utilities for managing the load on the power grid. By enabling the platforms to share information in both directions, utilities can incorporate Volts into their existing systems for shedding load while studying customers’ driving and charging habits.

GE is purchasing 25,000 PEVs, including 12,000 that will be leased by its fleet customers, including utility companies (GE Finance has a large fleet business). The smart grid pilot program, which will start with one unannounced utility, will provide access to charging history – including location, time, and amount of energy consumed by the vehicle – and will be made available to understand how PEVs will impact the grid.

OnStar is developing a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable third parties to receive data from the vehicles – even when they are not plugged into a charging unit. This wireless communication enables automakers to go around charging equipment vendors (who want a share of the pie and access to the data) and talk directly to the grid. Also, utilities may be able to better predict upcoming demand through the GPS data (which is provided on an opt-in basis by vehicle operators).

Since it is already in use by utilities, GE’s platform could become a de facto standard for managing PEVs on the grid. According to GE, the software contains algorithms that learn from demand usage patterns and incorporate PEVs into their system of providing dynamic pricing based on the load on the grid. Systems could be developed so that charging only takes place when the price falls below customer-selected thresholds.

Nick Pudar, Vice President of OnStar Planning and Business Development, told me that in the future, that data from other applications, such as trips planned and stored on a PEV owners’ Google calendar, could automatically be factored into PEV charging schedules.

The collaboration will have an impact beyond GM vehicles. An aftermarket version of OnStar, to be sold by Best Buy, was recently announced, enabling owners of competing models to use the communications system. While other PEV makers are developing their own wireless communications platforms, new models could incorporate OnStar as their platform and gain access to GE’s utility platform as well.

GE also announced that its EV charger, the WattStation, will be the first of its kind to be sold by home improvement company Lowe’s.

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