What’s the value of a home that can fine-tune EV charging in the garage, solar panels on the roof, appliances in the kitchen and thermostats on the wall to maximize its energy profile?
Ford Motor Co., SunPower and Whirlpool say it’s significant, at least according to a new computer model they’ve developed with the Georgia Institute of Technology. And while they haven’t launched any commercial offerings on this front yet, Ford has already developed a database of EV charging rates from utilities across the country to give each home system some grid-pertinent data to make decisions with -- and a cloud-based management platform to control it all.
That’s the gist of Ford’s “MyEnergi Lifestyle” partnership announced Tuesday, so-named after the automaker's new Ford Fusion Energi line of plug-in hybrids. The partners have a big display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, showing how Ford can schedule and control plug-in EV charging to reduce demand during grid peaks and take advantage of cheap off-peak power, usually at night.
Next up will be some sort of contest to award a “typical American family” with products from each of the partners, including a Ford plug-in vehicle, SunPower solar arrays and Whirlpool smart refrigerators. Other partners include Eaton, which provides the EV charger, smart thermostat maker Nest, and building energy sensor maker Powerhouse Dynamics, according to Monday’s announcement.
All that technology should allow a typical U.S. home to save about 60 percent in energy costs, along with a 56-percent reduction in CO2 footprint, according to the computer model developed by Georgia Tech. While some of that is due to simple savings like replacing old fridges with more energy-efficient models, a significant portion of it is managed by telling devices in the home when to draw power from the grid, Mike Tinskey, Ford’s global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure, said in an interview.
This is far from the first such experiment in linking plug-in cars and home energy management, of course. EV charger networking companies like ECOtality or ChargePoint (formerly Coulomb Technologies), private charging networks like NRG Energy’s eVgo network, and charger-making grid giants like Schneider Electric, Siemens and ABB, are including the ability to set charging times and rates according to power price signals or grid needs.
Plug-in cars themselves are also controlling their charging at the home. BMW and home energy startup Tendril have joined up to demo a home that charges its cars during off-peak hours, and Nissan is working on a system that can actually power a home via the battery in its Leaf electric sedan. General Motors has been plugging the Chevy Volt into all kinds of utility-consumer pilot projects, as well as opening up its OnStar platform to apps to link Volt charging to home energy management and utility data feeds, to name a few examples.
Ford’s MyEnergi approach, on the other hand, is essentially utility-agnostic, Tinskey said. That’s because Ford has built its own database of utility power rates, including both special plug-in vehicle charging rates and the more general on-peak/off-peak or time of use (TOU) pricing plans that can have a significant impact on household energy spending. Ford claims it is the only automaker to offer such a “value charging” data set for utilities across the United States, which it beams directly to its plug-in cars via cellular.
Ford has also built a cloud computing platform to connect its energy database and plug-in charging command system with software from its various partners, he said. That makes for much simpler integration of products from partners like Whirlpool, Nest and Powerhouse Dynamics, all of which require their own sets of commands and communications links to homeowners and the outside world.
Ford and SunPower have already been working together since the summer of 2011, when they announced a joint project to sell 2.5-kilowatt solar systems that could offset the power required to charge a Focus Electric plug-in car. But according to Tinskey, the partners quickly found that increasing the size of the solar array made more economic sense -- a realization that sparked the MyEnergi partnership, he said.
What about linking to utility smart grid technologies, like smart meters? Ford actually tried connecting directly to smart meters at first, “but the amount of communications protocols, and the number of utilities that wouldn’t even open up their meters, just made it impossible,” Tinskey said. So instead, “we opened it up, and took it to the cloud.”
Right now, the MyEnergi partners aren’t saying much about how they plan to bring their combined technologies to market, though Tinskey said it’s set to be commercially available in the next 12 months. The biggest factor in the technology’s growth, of course, is how many plug-ins Ford can sell in the coming years. The automaker is launching a total of six EV models across the U.S. and Europe, and has a partnership with Eaton’s Leviton for its consumer car sales and GE’s Wattstation EV charger for commercial applications.