SAN FRANCISCO -- As electric vehicles have gained popularity in some circles, so has the idea of using their batteries to stabilize the electric grid -- and paying the cars' owners for the help. To make that happen, utilities and the auto industry are teaming up to get EVs speaking the same language.
Eight automakers -- BMW, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi and Toyota -- have joined a group that is devising a common platform for EVs to communicate with the grid, utility r&d group the Electric Power Research Institute announced in late July.
The automakers and 15 electric utilities taking part in the project are acting out of mutual interest. Power demand fluctuates from hour to hour, as do the prices. That means utilities could save money by electronically pulling the plug on EVs and charging them when electricity is cheapest, and by drawing on the electricity stored in EV batteries when the grid needs extra power.
Customers likely would earn money for that service, which automakers see as a clever way to make EVs more cost competitive -- and increase their popularity.
One problem, though, is that utilities currently must write different software for a Chevrolet Volt, a Nissan Leaf and any other EVs of a different make. Some automakers want signals transmitted to their EVs over power lines; others, like GM with its OnStar system, want them sent wirelessly.
Vehicle-to-grid technology has the potential to help EV owners shrink their electric bills, Paul Pebbles, senior manager of technology planning at GM, said in an interview. But without a standard language, it's a cumbersome process.
"You talk to utilities, and they say: 'GM has a large market share [for EVs], but we need something that's going to work for all of our customers,'" Pebbles said. "As automakers, electrification is really important to our future. This is one of the areas where it makes sense to work together."