Ford PHEVs to save by ‘talking’ to electric grid

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Ford's PHEVs will be able to take advantage of cheaper electricity tariffs by programming when to recharge the vehicles

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A new development by Ford allows owners of the company’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) to further reduce their operating costs by programming when to recharge the vehicle, for how long and at what utility rate. Ford says it has developed a vehicle-to-grid communications and control system for its (PHEVs) which enables them to ‘talk’ directly with the nation’s electric grid.

“Electric vehicles are an important element of our strategy for improving fuel economy and reducing CO2 emissions,” said Bill Ford, Ford's executive chairman. “This vehicle-to-grid communication technology is an important step in the journey toward the widespread commercialization of electric vehicles.”

How it works

When plugged in at home, the battery systems of these specially equipped PHEVs can communicate directly with the electrical grid via wireless smart meters provided by utility companies. The owner uses the vehicle’s touch screen navigation interface and Ford Work Solutions in-dash computer to choose when the vehicle should recharge, for how long and at what utility rate.

Gizmag reported last month that Nissan, too, has proposed a remote controlled charging system to take advantage of better electricity rates. PHEV owners could take advantage of cheaper electricity rates between midnight and 6am by programming the vehicle to charge only during these off-peak hours, or when the grid is using only renewable energy such as wind or solar power.

The first of the specially equipped plug-in hybrid Escape has been delivered to American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio. All 21 of Ford’s fleet of plug-in hybrid Escapes eventually will be equipped with the vehicle-to-grid communications technology.

In addition to low-cost recharging at home through the smart meters, Ford researchers say recharging away from home – whether at work, in a shopping mall parking lot or at a curbside station – needs to be as simple as plugging in and swiping a credit card. “We are designing what plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles will be capable of in the future,” said Greg Frenette, manager of Ford’s Battery Electric Vehicle Applications. “Direct communication between vehicles and the grid can only be accomplished through collaboration between automakers and utility companies, which Ford and its partners are demonstrating with this technology.”

Ford says that over the past two years, the company and its energy industry partners have logged more than 75,000 miles (120,000km) on the plug-in hybrid test fleet which focuses on four primary areas: battery technology, vehicle systems, customer usage and grid infrastructure.

“Broad commercialization of electric transportation is not something a car company can achieve on its own,” said Nancy Gioia, Ford director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies. “Developing and producing the vehicles is just one part of the electric transportation equation. We are well on our way to delivering the vehicles, but for widespread adoption the infrastructure to support the technology needs to be in place and we need to ensure that the national electric grid can support increased electric demand.”

Powerful partnerships

In 2007, Ford announced a partnership with Southern California Edison, the electric utility with the nation’s largest and most advanced electric vehicle fleet, in an effort designed to:

  • make plug-in hybrids more accessible to consumers;
  • reduce petroleum-related emissions; and
  • understand issues related to connectivity between vehicles and the electric grid.

Since then, Ford and Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an independent nonprofit organization, have devised a three-year plan to develop and evaluate technical approaches for integrating PHEVs into the nation’s electric grid system, a key requirement to facilitate widespread adoption of the vehicles.

“Ford’s involvement in the collaboration with EPRI and some of the nation’s leading utilities will help accelerate the pace leading to the commercialization of PHEVs,” said Arshad Mansoor, vice president of EPRI’s Power Delivery and Utilization Sector. “This type of joint effort between an auto manufacturer and utilities will permit a more seamless integration of electric-drive vehicles into the power grid and the transportation sector.”

Getting charged up

Ford recently was selected for two grants from the Department of Energy under its fleet electrification program.

One grant, for US$30 million, will help fund Ford’s collaboration with utility partners across the nation with an expansion of a vehicle demonstration and grid integration program, while a second grant for US$62.7 million is for production of an electric-drive trans axle that could be used for hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles at Ford’s Van Dyke transmission manufacturing facility. This grant will be matched by Ford.

DOE grant funds also will support production of electric-drive system components at Ford supplier Magna, for the Ford Focus battery electric vehicle, as well as Johnson Controls-Saft, which will supply high-voltage batteries for Ford’s plug-in hybrid vehicle in 2012.

Ford plans to invest nearly $14 billion in advanced technology vehicles in the next seven years.

The company says it will introduce a pure battery electric Transit Connect commercial van in 2010, a battery electric Focus compact car in 2011, and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and next-generation hybrid electric vehicle in 2012.

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