Industry heavyweights team up for EV smart charger project

Posted by Shane McGlaun

The sheer amount of research conducted for and about electric vehicles around the world never ceases to amaze me.

However, it is important to realize that engineers are not focused solely on designing more efficient electric vehicles. Indeed, a fair amount of R&D has shifted to optimizing battery charging technology.

At first glance, an EV partnership between IBM, Honda, and electric company PG&E seems odd. IBM is certainly more known for supercomputers and advanced technology than performance in the automotive realm.

Nevertheless, the three industry heavyweights have teamed up to design a smarter charging system for electric vehicles capable of communicating with the electric infrastructure. Essentially, cars will selectively recharge their batteries based on real-time conditions within the power grid.

"This pilot project with IBM and Honda will help us demonstrate that third-party providers have the systems and capabilities to help meet some of the challenges that electric vehicles could place on the power grid as their adoption increases in the coming years," explained PG&E rep Saul Zambrano.

"With updated charging patterns for EVs, we have the ability if needed, to shift demand to non-peak times to ensure the reliability of the grid so that we can continue to deliver safe, reliable and affordable energy to our customers."

As noted above, the goal of the joint project is to test an EV capable of receiving and responding to charge instructions via the power grid, such as power load and the vehicle's battery charge state. 

So if it is two o'clock on a hot summer day when air conditioners around the city are slurping almost all the power available from the utility grid, the EV would receive instructions to charge later if the battery is almost full. This is important because in some areas the electric grid can be easily overwhelmed by only a few additional EVs charging. Indeed, a number of utility companies fear blackouts or brownouts from the adoption of electric vehicles and drivers who plug them in during times of peak load.

The above-mentioned initiative will be based around a Honda Fit EV - with IBM providing the cloud-based software platform to faciliate communication between the vehicle and electric grid, with the latter courtesy of PG&E.