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GridPoint Software for World's Biggest Electric Car Deployment

On August 10, charging company ECOtality (through its subsidiary, eTec) announced that it had been awarded almost $100 million in stimulus money. Working with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the money will support deployment of 12,750 charging stations and 5,000 Nissan Leaf EVs.

Although this is being billed as the largest U.S. EV deployment in history, it's unlikely that adding 5,000 EVs to grids in five markets (Arizona, California, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington) will cause much of bump in electricity usage. But President Obama wants to see a million plug-in hybrids by 2015, and that's a lot of plugs. A major area of concern is, after a major EV deployment, tens of thousands of people will be plugging into the same grid at the same time--6 p.m., say, when they get home. So if companies like Tesla and Fisker are the media stars in the EV revolution, then players such as GridPoint are important behind-the-scenes players.

GridPoint is a key part of the ECOtality plan by providing smart charging software that utilities can use to balance the EV load (and shunt a lot of it to low-demand times). Utilities estimate that millions of EVs can be seamlessly recharged without new power plants--as long as they're not plugging in at peak times.

In a story yesterday, I wrote about Ford's introduction of an "intelligent" in-car touch screen that will allow consumers to interact with the grid and dial in charging times. According to Peter Corsell, CEO of GridPoint, its software helps manage EVs on the other end--at the utilities themselves. "Our advanced software capabilities will help utilities prepare the grid for the imminent arrival of plug-in vehicles."

The idea is that utilities will be able to see, on one computer screen, how much specific load is coming from EVs in each neighborhood. In a test demonstration, 10 cars were drawing 50 kilowatts. With customers' permission, utilities can then take specific blocks of EVs offline. They can also see on a visual display how the load is affected with or without charging management over the previous 24 hours.

"We call this control process smart charging," said John Clark of GriPpoint. "We see it as a smart charging portal for utility customers." Those utility partners include some big players, including Austin Energy in Texas, Seattle City Light in Washington, Duke Energy and Progress Energy in the Southeast, Con Edison in New York.

The latest GridPoint software, Smart Charging 3.0, is based on historical usage data collected over two years from the owners of hundreds of EV conversions. It is planned that, in the near future, the software can synchronize with available renewable energy sources--such as wind and solar--so the user could choose to be charged when those are on the grid. "If, for instance, extra wind resources are being added from what was expected, the operator will know that groups of EVs can be charged right now," Clark said.