IBM Expands Smart Grid Work with EV Charging App, EcoGrid Partnership

IBM Expands Smart Grid Work with EV Charging App, EcoGrid Partnership

IBM is teaming up with Swiss utility EKZ to develop a smartphone app that will enable drivers of electric cars to charge their vehicles and manage energy use with a click of a virtual button.

The pilot by IBM scientists in the Swiss canton of Zurich is one of the company's two most recent moves to advance its market presence in Europe's developing smart grid.

IBM said last week that in addition to the partnership with EKZ, the firm has joined the newly formed EcoGrid EU project in Denmark. The project, which is led by a European Union-funded consortium, is aimed at developing a smart and green energy grid in which at least 50 percent of energy comes from renewable energy sources -- wind power, solar energy and biogas.

That collaboration dovetails with the app pilot, which is intended to connect drivers, their electric vehicles, their utility and their EV charging via a smartphone. The connections between formerly disparate sectors like tech, energy and vehicles are a textbook example of the concept GreenBiz calls VERGE.

Using the app, drivers would be able to:

  • Keep tabs on when their cars need charging
  • Program charging times and the power source to be used -- i.e. the grid or green energy
  • Manage energy use so that charging can occur when it is least costly to the owner, less of a burden on the grid and when it is most convenient for the driver

Creating an easy way to manage when electric vehicles recharge is considered one of the major hurdles in EV and smart grid deployment. Without managing time-of-use, the electrical grid will face steep peaks in energy demand as drivers return home from work and all plug in at the same to recharge their cars. IBM is also a partner in the EDISON project in Denmark, which released results last month highlighting the importance of managing time-of-use for EV charging.

Here is how the IBM and EKZ solution works: The app connects a smartphone (or an iPad, laptop or PC), which serves as the driver's control device, to a cloud-based IBM service, which in turn connects to the electric car by communicating with a phonebook-sized instrument that is installed inside the vehicle. That device supplies information about the car, like the level of power storage, its location and power input and output. The cloud also connects the car to the power grid. In addition, IBM and EKZ are prototyping a way to use the connections to link a solar power source into the information stream in real time, so that drivers can choose whether to charge their cars with available green power or tap into the grid.

Here is a video from IBM and EKZ about the app:



The developments follow another IBM deal involving vehicles and machine-to-machine communication. IBM partnered with San Francisco firm Streetline last month to scale up a traffic management solution to help drivers easily locate street parking in cities, thereby easing urban congestion.

Image credits -- Photo of electric car via Shutterstock. Video courtesy of IBM.