The key phrase is “smart grid” at Green:Net 2010, a conference about IT, the Internet and climate change today in San Francisco. With the future of grid-connected vehicles looming right around the corner, automakers are in attendance to discuss the impact of adding vehicles to the increasingly complex web of energy and information.
Ed Pleet, Ford’s product manager for connected services, is excited about electric cars and how they will connect to the grid for energy and information—but does not see vehicle communications systems as critical to consumer adoption of plug-in cars. Instead, car connectivity and the electrification of the automobile are two major trends starting to merge. “It’s an enabler to help people overcome concerns like range anxiety,” Pleet told HybridCars.com. “It will help them with the transition from pure gas vehicles to pure electric vehicles.”
In addition to alleviating worries about limited driving range and long re-charging times, on-board communications could help electric car drivers better understand their vehicle’s energy consumption.
According to Pleet, cars of all kinds—running on gasoline, electricity, or a combination—will become increasingly connected. Drivers are already juggling the use of web-enabled smart phones, music, navigation systems, and climate controls. Products like Ford’s Sync are designed to help drivers manage in-car information and entertainment with greater ease and safety. “There’s always a need for connectivity in the vehicle, and some of those are unique for electric cars,” Pleet said.
In fact, adding information about batteries and charging stations can exacerbate driver distraction. The issue of info overload dominated the panel discussion, “The New Networked Car,” at Green:Net 2010. Mark Perry, director of product planning at Nissan, said, “Information is great when you are parked, but not when you’re on the move.”
Last month at the New York Auto Show, Ford announced that it will use Microsoft Hohm to make electric vehicle ownership easier and more affordable for consumers. Hohm, an Internet-based service, provides insight into home energy usage patterns and suggesting recommendations to increase conservation. When you combine the use of Hohm with Ford’s Sync in-car communications system, “You can see the whole portfolio of energy use in your home and car,” Pleet said.
It’s a good thing that car-to-grid communications is not critical to the adoption of electric cars and plug-in hybrids, because the technology, and even the underlying standards, could be years away. Meanwhile, the first grid-connected cars are hitting the market in about six months. Nissan’s Perry called for industry standards, but said that the Nissan Leaf is in “lock and load” and will not wait. He said that communications and public charging is not the “Achilles’ heel,” because most charging will happen at home.
Any technology gap can be addressed, according to Pleet, by developing solutions that are “upgradeable and adaptable.” He pointed to syncmyride.com, which allows Sync customers to download software applications to their cars. “We’re going to look at solutions where people can upgrade their vehicle as they go. Look for solutions that are adaptable even for electric vehicles that are coming out on Day One.”