Meters Look to Put the Smarts in EV Charging

There is general industry agreement that electric vehicle charging needs to be smart enough to respond to the changing conditions on the grid (to limit the impact on the grid) and to changing prices (to maximize the savings of driving electric). The looming question that will help to shape the ultimate success of EVs is, “Will that smart charging be enabled through smart meters, or through other devices?”

The investment in smart charging management hardware and software from utilities, EV charging companies and service parties will reach $111 million in the U.S. by 2015, as forecast by Pike Research’s Electric Vehicle Information Technology Systems report.

EV IT Investment by Segment, United States: 2010-2015 Automakers and third-party services companies are developing alternative technologies to smart meters, such as leveraging the EV charging equipment and connecting via the web or wireless communications. For the self-interested reason of having a role in the communications (and revenue) streams, as well as to not be dependent on utilities’ smart grid infrastructure deployments, this option makes much sense. For example, companies such as Coulomb Technologies are including smart meters in their EV charging equipment so that vehicle charging can be metered separately if a smart meter doesn’t exist in the home or office.

But many utilities want to leverage their huge investment in smart (AMI) meters and make them the hub for all electricity consumption, including EVs. Recent announcements reinforce that there is no clear winner today – and may never be.

For example, British Gas is taking a prominent role in EV charging infrastructure and marrying it to the company’s smart meters. The company, which serves as a utility, has become Renault’s charging equipment partner for its EV models, which follows on a similar deal with Nissan. The smart meters will be used to provide the time of use tariffs and communications between the grid and British Gas’ charging equipment.

Taking a different approach is Siemens, which partnered with Tendril Networks to market the Tendril Connect home energy management platform to utilities. Siemens is developing commercial and residential EV charging equipment, and it is likely that Siemens would add interoperability with Tendril’s platform to enable data sharing and interaction with smart grid equipment. Tendril’s platform is agnostic on how the data gets moved, as it is open to using smart meters or a broadband connection.

As EVs themselves gain more intelligence and can communicate with utilities through smart meters, the need for the intelligence in the charging equipment is greatly reduced. This isn’t a good trend for EV equipment vendors, who may see a portion of the business opportunity quickly dwindle. The integration of EVs into the smart grid will be one of many topics around EVs and infrastructure that will be discussed during the Plug-in 2011 conference which begins on July 19 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Article by John Gartner, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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