The Fuse

AutoGrid Enables Utilities and Consumers to Get More from EVs

by R. Kress | October 08, 2015

Energy demand for EV charging is stronger than from any other electricity-powered device, motivating companies to find solutions to help both consumers and utilities.

The growth in electric vehicles is creating a challenge for utility companies, as more EVs translate into the need for more charging stations to keep them up and running. But when drivers plug their EVs into a charging station either at home or at a shared public station, the energy demand is stronger than from any other electricity-powered device, motivating companies to find solutions to relieve grid stress, increase energy efficiency, and save costs for EV drivers.

“EV charging places a significant burden on the grid because of the kilowatt-hours needed to power the car,” Tesh Venkates, Senior Director of Product Management at AutoGrid tells The Fuse. “The current it draws from the grid is much higher than any of your other appliances.”

Strategies to help both consumers and utilities

AutoGrid is pioneering demand-response systems that allow utility companies to incentivize consumers to charge their EVs during off-peak hours.

Because EVs require a large amount of current to power up, Silicon Valley-based AutoGrid is pioneering demand-response systems that allow utility companies to incentivize consumers to charge their EVs during off-peak hours. The company is at the forefront of building the so-called energy internet of things by bringing together utilities and consumer-facing devices to facilitate renewable integration and more efficient energy usage with specialized demand-response programs. In the case of EV charging, AutoGrid is acting as a central meeting point for utilities and customers, allowing them to coalesce across a wide variety of hardware and software combinations.

Currently, AutoGrid has about 200 EV chargers in its demand-response program, 86 of which are in shared deployments or public spaces where they are in continuous use throughout the day.

“We’re the first of our kind in the world to allow users to choose their equipment from multiple vendors,” John McLean, Director of Product Marketing for AutoGrid, tells The Fuse. “That makes it easier for the utility to support [EV charging] and it makes it more likely that the end-user is going to want to participate because they don’t feel locked into a specific set of hardware or software and the utility isn’t locked into a specific vendor.”

A major part of AutoGrid’s strategy for EV demand response charging is bringing down the typical barriers to adoption of the new automotive technology. By simplifying a utility’s capacity to drive grid power to a particular charging station at a particular time, AutoGrid is able to relieve grid stress, increase energy efficiency and even save money for EV drivers.

For example, drivers using a residential EV charger with AutoGrid’s software might tell their devices that they do not require a full battery charge for the next day of driving. If, however, EV drivers require a full charge as soon as possible, they can program their chargers accordingly and AutoGrid’s technology facilitates the local utility companies to give them the maximum speed of charge at that time regardless of whether or not it’s a peak hour. As a result, he may pay a premium for that service. However, they can also program their chargers for only off-peak hours in the middle of the night and, consequently, pay less to do so.

“This is a case where everyone benefits,” explains McLean. “Customers get a lower cost of EV ownership, EV manufacturers sell more vehicles, EV charger manufacturers sell more units and utilities have a single command center to manage of all of their programs and charging devices.”

Technological improvements to bring a wider EV consumer base

For AutoGrid, the mission to enable widespread EV adoption does not end at the charger. As McLean puts it, the EV industry needs to overcome the notion that only the wealthiest drivers in certain communities can have access to this technology. By making EV charging simpler and more economical for utilities that can use AutoGrid’s technology to employ a single central command center for their entire coverage area, McLean believes the company will be able to help bring these cars to a much wider audience.

“There’s a perspective in a part of the country that EVs are specifically for a subset of wealthy liberals living on the coasts. That’s not true,” McLean says. “One of our programs has up to 10-percent of its EV chargers that are going to be located in disadvantaged communities…The new energy transition away from fossil fuels is something that everyone should participate in. So to do that, we have to locate chargers in these communities to increase the likelihood that they’ll buy EVs too.”

Efforts to boost alternatives

Beyond EVs, demand-response programs are a key component of integrating renewables onto the electricity grid.

Beyond EVs, demand-response programs are a key component of integrating renewables onto the electricity grid. For example, many renewable resources like wind and solar are not constant: Wind and sun may not be there when demand is high. By using software solutions like AutoGrid’s, utilities can incorporate forecasts into its supply and demand projections to channel energy to when and where it’s needed from a variety of sources.

“We’re able to generate a living portrait of the grid for utilities so they have a better understanding of how to match supply and demand. We’re giving them the tools to then manage all of these distributed resources,” McLean says. “There’s a great opportunity offered by solar, wind, [energy] storage and EVs: it’s an exciting opportunity for utilities to move away from fossil fuel based solutions. We want everyone to have access to clean, safe and reliable power. But getting there means giving the industry the tools it needs not just to manage that transition but to thrive on that transition.

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