Automakers Race to Design Car-to-Grid Communications

“We all have to abide by the same laws of physics. When forced to do that, and do it in an economically responsible manner, you find out pretty quickly who is just talking and who has serious proposals out there.”

Greg Frenette
Ford manager of battery electric vehicle applications

Ford is scheduled to introduce the all-electric Ford Focus in 2011 and the Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid in 2012—but the system to control how and when the car is charged is still early in development. “The clock is ticking,” Greg Frenette, Ford manager of battery electric vehicle applications, told HybridCars.com. “We have data to generate, information to absorb, and decisions to make.”

In August, Ford announced the introduction of an “intelligent” system for drivers to manage the charging of electric and plug-in hybrid cars. That system has been installed in exactly one vehicle so far—one of the 20 Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrids demo vehicles under evaluation at a handful of utility companies around the country. The wireless ZigBee-based communication capability will be added to the remaining 20 Escape plug-in hybrids by the end of this year.

The system allows plug-in vehicles to exchange information back and forth with a smart meter. Frenette and his team of engineers have the tricky task of anticipating the rollout of smart meters—just 5 percent of today’s installed meters are “smart”—and trying to design car-to-grid communications before the industry has developed standards. In an interview with HybridCars.com (see below), Frenette ruled out the possibility of rapid charging or battery swapping.

Short clips from videos, produced by Volvo and Nissan, to describe future wireless communications between plug-in cars and the electric grid.

Frenette does not see the communications systems as a competitive advantage for Ford, but rather as basic functionality that all electric car producers must offer. And they are all under time pressure. Nissan, which will debut the all-electric Nissan Leaf in late 2010, and Volvo, which is planning a plug-in hybrid V70 wagon, are among the companies beginning to paint a picture of the coming charging communications landscape.

Greg Frenette: Plug-in Communications, Battery Swapping, Rapid Charging

HyridCars.com: How does the system benefit the driver?

Greg Frenette: On the navigation screen, the driver can tell the vehicle, for example, that even though the vehicle is plugged in and it’s 5 pm—I don’t want to pay the kind of electric rates that are prevalent at that time. Don’t accept the juice until the rates are lower, or I need to have a full charge by 6 am tomorrow morning. It’s all menu driven. There’s going to be that level of control and communication between the vehicle and the meter that gives consumers some options.

Will the production version of the system be wireless?

I’m not ready to declare that the wireless communication is the way to go. We’re very early on the pilot for these 20 vehicles. We’re working with the utility to study how robust, how reliable, and how durable that wireless interconnectivity is.

Will you be able to monitor the battery state of charge from the road, and perhaps inform consumers of nearby charging stations?

That’s a capability under serious consideration. With satellite communications, and navigation and so forth, our ability to process that information on the vehicle and acquire signals, and to convey information to the driver, is expanding at an exponential rate. The challenge to anybody putting an electric car into the market is how to best reduce range anxiety, and what technology can you bring to bear.

Are you considering an iPhone app to inform the driver while away from the car?

I can’t talk about our exact feature set, but as a technologist, I see that capability as very real and something you would expect to see in short order.

Can’t we circumvent all the worries about charging with battery swapping?

Quite frankly, I have not seen a viable high-volume approach that makes sense to me, either economically or technically. When you think about battery replacement stations, when you think about the volume of traffic in and out of the station, the number of battery packs that would need to be in inventory, and the energy necessary to keep them charged and in a certain condition, when you look at the implications of battery pack design on vehicle architecture and the demands to commonize that on competitive vehicles, I have some questions on how that occurs. It’s not clear to me.

And what about rapid so-called Level 3 charging?

You can’t just charge batteries at any level without some sort of impact on safety, battery life, reliability and durability. I’m not one that believes there’s a viable solution— given where battery chemistries and technologies are today—that says you can charge these batteries in two or three minutes and send them on their way. We all have to abide by the same laws of physics. When forced to do that, and do it in an economically responsible manner, you find out pretty quickly who is just talking and who has serious proposals out there.

You’re system relies on smart meters, and yet very few have been deployed

That’s today, but if you start projecting out over the next 10 years, those numbers are going to become significant. That fundamental metering technology is in place. The question is how can vehicles interface with that technology. What communications protocols need to be in place? What hardware and software do you need to start working on today, so that you’re ready when you introduce these vehicles two, three, four years from now. How do you design the interconnectivity so it’s intelligent and gives consumers a benefit?


  • BoilerCivicHy

    Really, I think you have a better chance at getting a car with a flux capacitor than you have on all these things coming about for electric cars at the same time. There are more IF’s to this technology than a Obama Healthcare Plan. How about just giving me a hybrid mini-van, would that be too much to ask?

  • Mr.Bear

    Here’s a radical thought…. A timer. I have one on my phone. I have one on my watch. I have one on my stove and microwave. How hard is it to put one on a car?

    Ahhh, but they can’t charge an extra $5,000 for a programmable timer.

    Btw, how many people are charged more for peak hour electrical use? I’m not. This “essential” feature would do nothing for me.

  • BobbyG

    You may not have peak/off peak metering yet but it is on the way. A number of utilities have signed agreements with meter suppliers to purchase so called smart meters. My utility just completed a five-year program to convert all their customers over. I pay $0.05 kWh off peak and $0.14 kWh for peak usage. 75% of my usage is off peak. Having said that if I had a PHEV I would probably use a timer or just plug it in before bedtime.

  • Phillip U.

    A car that can talk to the grid is really essential for the long-term viability of the concept. Right now it’s fine to have a handful of people gobbling down power at any time of day, but scale it up to levels of mass adoption and you’re gonna see some significant problems if the grid can’t tell a car to stop charging to avoid overloading. This is not unique to EVs in any way. As our increasingly electronic world progresses, we need a way to better manage power utilization. Currently, our power grid has no good means to scale rapidly to waxing and waning power demands. Whether the solution is to balance power utilization by having devices schedule their utilization community by community and store their power locally or creating a means of storing regional power for later usage, it is needed quickly. I don’t know that we need it for next year’s EV line-up, but definitely within the next two decades.

  • Baba Pandey

    This is wonderful design.

  • Tchetan

    not only well design but updated with well advance features too, this will make easy to drive in any road without any error. is I have got 2009 Ford Second Hand Cars from my Local Dealer. in which i have same system, & for that only i took that car from my Dealer

  • Scott Allerdice

    Cars are like our part of racing life but sometimes to win the race become impossible to grab the track for. Most of the time the software development section of some cars are not easily for everyone to get on but something is better than nothing.

  • jonathan200

    Diffusion always takes its sweet ole time! (Unless it’s an interactive communication technology – and even then said technology/concept has been around for decades.) I wonder if there’s a way to accelerate this information. Pretty images sure do help.

    bajar de peso

  • Filme online

    Great post, nice articles on all blog, i read you blog every day and i think is very useful, filme online, thanks!!!

  • Phil Smothers

    Electric cars seem to be more of a reality today than they were just few years ago. It seems that placing charging stations in remote areas may be the one thing that stands in the way. I am also awaiting their appearance at our Indianapolis Ford dealer. With gas becoming more expensive, this will be a welcome technology advancement.

  • Miniclip

    Nice one man, great blog you have! Miniclip

  • ninamicu

    I’m very interested in this issue. I’ve made these past two weeks several car designs, that got out pretty well. My sources were my favorite car dealer websites, from where I stole some ideas. Now the only thing that I have to do is to decide which car design I will send to this contest.

  • dede

    I’m very interested in this issue. I’ve made these past two weeks several car designs, that got out pretty well. My sources were my favorite car dealer websites, from where I stole some ideas. Now the only thing that I have to do is to decide which car design I will send to this contest.

  • Ana Maria

    I’m very interested in this issue. I’ve made these past two weeks several car designs, Metformina Para Bajar De Peso

  • horoscopo semanal

    I always loves to see this kind of advances in car industry frases de amor i think there is the future of the industry

  • martin mas

    Excellent article, i’m sharing it with some car-lovers friends, hope you dont mind! cavitacion estetica

  • ScotWetherington

    This is very exciting article, read it with deep feeling.

    intranet-portal

  • juegos

    What a great car when it is combined with the handset as the phone enables users to identify the vehicle as well as the status of charging points on the route.

  • Mattia

    Excellent article, i love hybrids and electric cars. I know they are the future. Thanks for this awesome blog.
    Coches Electricos Precios

  • Mascarillas caseras para el cabello

    Excellent desing, hybrids cars are the best.

  • car games

    This post was very well written and it also contains a lot of useful facts.

  • car games

    The amount of information in here is stunning, like you practically wrote the book on the subject.
    car games | cars games

  • car games

    The amount of information in here is stunning, like you practically wrote the book on the subject.
    cars games
    Miniclip

  • tunhrty

    It seems that placing charging stations in remote areas may be the one thing that stands in the way.

  • cubefield

    I have known this content through my friends and I argued a lot about these issues. Those of you share is accurate answer for what we are concerned.

  • super smash flash
  • super smash flash

    The amount of information in here is stunning, like you practically wrote the book on the subject.

    super smash flash

    super smash flash

    super smash flash 2

    bloons tower defense 4

    bloons tower defense 5

  • pokemon tower defense

    thanks for your sharing, I really like it. I often read these information, it helps me feel more relaxing after working.
    pokemon tower defense

  • pokemon tower defense

    thanks for your sharing, I really like it. I often read these information, it helps me feel more relaxing after working.
    pokemon tower defense

  • happy wheels

    The amount of information in here is stunning, like you practically wrote the book on the subject.
    happy wheels | happy wheels game

  • kizi

    Your story is very interesting, my friends are also concerning about this topic. Your topic give me more knowledge to share with my friends. Thanks for that.
    kizi | kizi games

  • micro niche webistes

    Howdy! This article could not be written much better!
    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. I appreciate you for
    sharing!