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Ford, Microsoft Team on Electric Car Charging Optimization Tech

Michael Santo's picture

Much of the attention in electric cars has focused on the Nissan Leaf. However, all car manufacturers are working on such cars, as well as hybrids and plug-in hybrids, and on Wednesday Ford and Microsoft announced they are teaming up (again) to work on optimization of charging of such vehicles.

Microsoft and Ford have worked closely for more than three years on the Sync in-car system, which is a communication, navigation, and entertainment option. Sync has been installed on more than 2 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

In this case, Ford will be leveraging Microsoft's Hohm energy management application for upcoming cars. The announcement was made at the New York International Auto Show today. The cloud-based Hohm service will reportedly give owners of PHEV (plug-in hybrids) vehicles and BEV (battery electric or full electric) vehicles tips as to when the best time to charge their cars would be, to minimize impact to the grid.

The first car to leverage the Hohm technology, according to their press release, will be the 2011 Ford Focus Electric.

For some time, utilities, aware of the upcoming "surge" in electric and partial-electric vehicles, have been preparing. They've also been concerned, with some worrying that the "surge" of electricity that will occur as local electric car owners plug-in after work will overload the grid.

As many as 42 percent of car owners say that they are likely to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle in the next two years. That data comes from an Accenture survey.

Hohm, as well as other changes that utilities are making to the grid, is aimed at offsetting the new energy demands. A PG&E spokesman noted, in 2009:

“We will have to reinforce our distribution network,” Mr. Darbee said. Electric cars can use as much power as a home, he said, so the company may need to run more lines into particular neighborhoods, even when there are just three or four cars. The transformers, which adjust the voltage downward and normally cool down at night, might need to be reinforced if they are being used more in the off hours, he said.

Here's what Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said about Hohm and Ford, in a press release.

“Electric vehicles will play an important role in the global effort to improve energy efficiency and address the issues of climate change and sustainability. But as the market for electric vehicles expands, it will have a significant impact on home energy consumption and demand across the nation’s energy grid. With Microsoft Hohm, Ford and Microsoft will deliver a solution that will make it easier for car owners to make smart decisions about the most affordable and efficient ways to recharge electric vehicles, while giving utilities better tools for managing the expected changes in energy demand.”

It's unclear just how much this service will help. The obvious time to charge a vehicle is right when a driver gets home. Consumers will have to be educated, and take the matter seriously, for changes like this to take root. Utilities will have to undertake programs to ensure that happens prior to rollouts of more (and more) BEVs and PEHVs.

Written by Michael Santo

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