How Ford Sync Could Teach Cars to Talk to the Grid

1Executive Summary

All-electric vehicles that help store renewable energy for the smart grid may be the end-game envisioned by many automakers, battery companies, utilities, policymakers and “smart charging” startups, but we’re far from having a large-scale system of plug-in car batteries storing renewable energy for the grid and helping to level the load for utilities. When it comes to deploying this “vehicle-to-grid” system, “everyone thinks it’s tomorrow,” Nancy Gioia, the director of Ford Motor’s sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid programs, told us in an interview recently. But Gioia says 2020 and beyond is a more realistic time frame.

Today, “most cars have more computing power than most people ever realize,” Gioia said, mainly for controls and automated safety features we never see as drivers. While that intelligence is a far from a silver bullet for reducing vehicle emissions, it could help pave the way to cleaner transportation as we move toward vehicle-to-grid capability. The idea is to basically harness technology to help drivers change their behavior — similar to the way new devices like Google’s PowerMeter and Microsoft’s Hohm are meant to help consumers better manage their energy consumption at home — and at the same time build critical connections for the plug-in vehicle ecosystem.

The Big Picture: En Route to Energy Flow
Gioia and Lux Research Analyst Ying Wu, who heads up the firm’s Alternative Power & Energy Storage unit, say work on bidirectional energy flow (as in a vehicle-to-grid system) is in very early days. Yet Ford and other automakers, as well as computing companies like IBM, are now working with utilities to establish a framework for bidirectional data flow — figuring out how to communicate battery charge levels and vehicle identification numbers (VIN), for example, for electric cars plugging in at public charge stations.

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