Clay Luthy, Global Distributed Energy Resource Leader for IBM’s Energy & Utilities Industry, discusses the new mobile features that IBM has created to allow electric vehicle owners to better interact with their car.
|Ben lack:||IBM recently announced a partnership with EKZ, the utility provider of the Canton of Zurich in Switzerland to allow consumers to conveniently charge electric vehicles with their mobile phones. I wanted to get some insight from you on how this project came together and what ultimately is going to be quantified as a successful venture?|
|Clay Luthy:||I think the project came about with the belief that in order for electric vehicles to be successful, a few challenges need to be overcome. One is, how does the electrical grid support the increase in potentially dynamic load of electric vehicles without a massive influx of distribution or generation increase and two, how do you empower the consumer to make intelligent decisions with how he/she is consuming electricity? I think electric vehicles are really going to be at the tip of the spear of this empowered customer. The project with EKZ really came about as a way to create a solution that helps overcome both of those challenges. By empowering the consumer to make intelligent choices with the grid through an interface which is familiar and convenient like a mobile application, it allows the consumer to interact and understand and make intelligent choices on how he/she is going to charge his/her vehicle. But, it also allows the grid to support electric vehicles by facilitating or increasing off-peak charging or even optimized charging in accordance with solar energy, in this specific project, or other forms of renewable energy.|
|Ben Lack:||For the normal consumer, that’s an awful lot to understand. They’re usually just used to paying their bill and calling it a day. What steps is the partnership taking to help educate the consumer about how this works and why it’s so important for them to get involved?|
|Clay Luthy:||In order for this to gain traction with customers, it needs to be simple. That’s really the heart of the system. It allows the consumer to make intelligent choices with a very simple interface. First of all, a mobile application is increasingly familiar with the end customer. Second of all, it doesn’t present the end-user with a massive amount of data. It allows three choices: 1) charge your vehicle now, for instance when you need to top-up your battery, 2) delayed charge, so if you come home from work and don’t want your vehicle to charge immediately but want to charge off-peak later at night, you can set it to that, or 3) is an optimized charge which basically puts it in control of IBM’s optimized cloud server. So EKZ can offer a service which takes in grid input and automatically charges your vehicle in accordance with supply, demand and price. In the end of the day, it allows a very seamless and simple user interface and hides the very powerful control algorithm sitting behind that.|
|Ben Lack:||Is this the type of thing where you expect the consumer to use the mobile device on a daily basis or is it something where once they set the settings, they probably won’t touch it for a couple of days or a certain period of time.|
|Clay Luthy:||The level of consumer action is one of the key components of the research project. So the app needs to be as simple as possible. For example, the app allows the driver to select several charging options, including an “intelligent” one that delegates charging to EKZ to charge, for example when rates are lowest and when most renewable energy is available. Premium charging is also an option which allows the driver to set specific times for the charging process, for example, to start charging after midnight. In the short term, we are trying to understand how users prefer to charge their vehicle and what tools they need in order to make intelligent decisions about how and when they charge their vehicle, so we hope they’ll use the app a lot. Once we’ve collected enough historical data, certain features may be the kind the user would set and forget, but other features, like battery level, range of travel distance and vehicle location, may be ones the user finds helpful to check daily.|
|Ben Lack:||What makes Switzerland the location for conducting this research? Why not somewhere else?|
|Clay Luthy:||Switzerland has an energy policy goal of increasing the proportion of electricity produced from renewable energy by 5,400 gigawatt hours (GWh), or 10 percent of the country’s present-day electricity consumption, by 2030. Our Research Lab in Zurich has experience with this type of challenge from a previous project in Denmark. So the combination of skills, and a very progressive utility in EKZ, plus a general heightened interest in renewable energy, makes Switzerland ideal.|
|Ben Lack:||And you’ve also joined in Europe the EcoGrid EU consortium. Talk to us a little bit about the importance of joining that team and what the goals are there?|
|Clay Luthy:||Both the Switzerland project and EcoGrid EU are about finding the appropriate mechanisms that allow the grid to support the increasing number of smart devices out there, as well as empowering the end-consumer to make the choices needed to intelligently use electricity.
Before EcoGrid, IBM joined the EDISON consortium, which was also an EU project on the Danish island of Bornholm. With EDISON we were testing how electric vehicles could be used as a buffer between supply and demand on the grid. When the wind turbines blow on the island, the car charges, when they are idle, the cars plug in and provide energy to the grid.
The difference with EcoGrid is that it extends the device ecosystem to beyond the electric vehicle. It includes smart appliances, smart heat pumps and other high electricity consuming devices. It allows these devices to participate in load side management in addition to electric vehicles. It also has a price mechanism component where consumers can interact with electricity prices. They can input what they’re willing to pay for electricity and the back-end system then makes smart choices on how and when that electricity is consumed based on user preferences.
|Ben Lack:||So what are customers saying that they want to pay for power?|
|Clay Luthy:||Great question. It’s still very much in early stage research with no significant results back but that is one of the key components. It’s to understand what is the customer willing to pay and what are the mechanisms needed in order to allow them to make choices to use energy at more convenient times on the grid.|
|Ben Lack:||Clay, why are you in this business and why have you chosen to do what you’re doing?|
|Clay Luthy||That’s a long story, really what it came down to was I wanted to make an impact in the world and I know you’ve probably heard that a couple of times. I think the environment specifically the electrical grid and this concept the smart grid are two very important concepts. To be able to be in this area, working strategies and solutions that are helping to facilitate the incorporation of renewable energy to reduce our carbon footprint and to work for a company that can make these very complicated software products really has become basically a dream position for me. I would say it started with a view of how do I change the world that sounds overly grand. The energy sector was a logical place for me to land. IBM within that was a logical company because I view it as one of the companies that really can truly make a difference on how we change the grid.|