Ford Plans Vehicles to Tap Power Grids  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

The WSJ has an article on Ford's electric car plans and their efforts to integrate with smart grids - Ford Plans Vehicles to Tap Power Grids.

Ford Motor Co. is launching an in-vehicle technology to let its customers recharge electric cars when energy rates are low.

The "smart" charging concept announced Tuesday is key for all auto makers that are pursuing electric vehicles in a variety of forms, from plug-in gas-electric hybrids to fully electric cars and trucks that use no gasoline. Most of those vehicles are still months, if not years, away from reaching showrooms.

But car companies say that in order for electrified cars to be accepted widely, the companies must steer customers away from sapping too much power from the electric grid during peak hours—which could be cost-prohibitive and threaten the grid's stability. They also want consumers to be able to charge their cars quickly and at the most efficient times.

Developing an electric vehicle was relatively easy compared with working with "our partners at energy providers," Bill Ford, the auto maker's executive chairman, said during a question-and-answer session at the company's Dearborn, Mich., test track. There are more than 3,000 utility companies, and just a handful of auto companies.

The touch-screen technology will allow the car owner to program how to recharge the vehicle, even delaying the recharge for the middle of the night or choosing to tap renewable energy generated by wind or sun. A similar system is expected to be used when General Motors Co.'s Chevy introduces its plug-in Volt car late next year, a company spokesman said.

Other car makers working on electric vehicles include Toyota Motor Co., Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subarus. Nissan Motor Co. announced this year it will build 100,000 electric cars a year at its plant in Smyrna, Tenn., by 2013.

Ford plans to bring to market a pure battery electric Transit Connect commercial van next year, an all-electric Focus compact car in 2011, and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in 2012. ...

When plugged in, Ford's battery systems in plug-in hybrids will be able to talk to the electrical grid through "smart" meters provided by utility companies via wireless networking. The owner uses an in-dash computer to choose when the vehicle should recharge, for how long and at what utility rate.

All 21 SUVs in Ford's experimental fleet of plug-in hybrid Escapes eventually will be equipped with the vehicle-to-grid communications technology.

Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for the Volt program, said that the kind of technology unveiled by Ford Tuesday was already demonstrated by GM in December.

Instead of relying on so-called "smart" utility meters, the Volt will be able to interact with utility companies remotely through GM's OnStar technology. "The point is some of our competitors will rely on technology that requires smart meters, which is years away," Mr. Posawatz said. "We do not."

The San Francisco Business Times has a look at Ford's comparison of its approach to that of Better Place - Ford: 5 Better Place Challenges.
While meeting with Susan Cischke, group vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering at Ford Motor Company, we got on the topic of Better Place.

Cischke was in town pitching the 2010 Taurus, which comes equipped with keyless entry, a key that can be programmed to block the radio until seatbelts are fastened (handy if you lend your car to your children), and the EcoBoost engine which ups the gas mileage to 28 miles per gallon on the highway and 17 in the city — important for Ford which has lagged in this area.
But the real miles per gallon improvements will come from the fleet of hybrids Ford is planning and, in 2011, Ford will roll out its first all-electric Ford Focus.

Cischke has met multiple times with Palo Alto-based Better Place Founder Shai Agassi, whose pitching a new model for electric cars whereby car owners don’t own the battery in their car. Instead, Better Place would own electric car batteries and lease them back to car owners, plus sell the electricity used to charge the battery to the customers. The model relies on hundreds of thousands of public car charging stations for in-town charging, plus battery swapping stations where customers can swap out batteries in just a few minutes when a longer battery range is required.

While Cischke said she and Ford are staying open-minded about different models, she’s skeptical about Better Place for a number of reasons.

1. Better Place is a middle man: What’s stopping PG&E Co. or Ford Motor Co. from owning car batteries or selling power to customers through their own charging stations without the help of a middle man?

2. Battery swapping stations are not realistic: Hundreds if not thousands of these would have to be built across the country before this idea could work — an expensive endeavor and the same kind of problem that derailed the advent of hydrogen as a fuel source for autos. Stocking every kind of battery for every electric vehicle will be a nightmare. And actually switching out batteries will prove difficult since every car will be designed differently and batteries weigh thousands of pounds. “My view is that until infrastructure is ready and charging stations are everywhere, a plug-in hybrid makes a lot more sense,” Cischke said.

3. Who will finance a car that has no battery? What value is a car without the battery, and what companies would be willing to finance just the body, sans battery. Cischke guesses not too many.

4. Financial support is not yet apparent here: Better Place has demoed it’s model in Denmark and Israel and where it had full support of the government – including excise taxes that support the installation of infrastructure there. But there seems little hope that the U.S. government will provide the same financial support. Even in the Bay Area where Mayors announced a plan to jointly electrify, touting Better Place as a solution, no money has changed hands.

5. Other models might prove cheaper, easier and ultimately more appealing: Ford said its looked at lots of other business models, hoping to integrate the best solutions for getting the most out of electric cars. “One thing that would change (Better Place’s) model is if quick charging technology was available,” said Cischke. That would eliminate the need for costly battery swapping stations, she said. “They (Better Place) are definitely not the only game in town,” she said.


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