Kate Mackenzie Google leans towards one-way plug-in vehicle charging software

Google is writing software with “vehicle dispatch algorithms” to help smooth out demand for electricity that plug-in vehicles could create, CNet reports. It’s not the first time Google, or more specifically its philanthropic arm Google.org, has ventured into electric cars; two years ago it announced grants worth a total of $10m to electric car research programmes, and also said it would explore “vehicle-to-grid” technology directly with Pacific Gas & Electric.

Google.org’s on FAQ on the subject shows there was hope that electric cars could act a kind of baseload power source, allowing the grid to draw back energy from vehicles, rather than turning to fossil fuels at times when generation from solar and wind power was insufficient.

But CNet’s report suggests said Google has moved away from vehicle-too-grid in favour of a one-way charging because it can be implemented more quickly, with less need for advanced grid technology.

The software discussed in the story still uses the smart meter concept that energy-consuming devices can be switched on or off remotely, to avoid big peaks in electricity demand that could require extra generating capacity.

Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org, told CNet the software was still in the ‘experimental’ stage:

The software is also designed to simplify matters for grid operators. To maintain a steady frequency on transmission wires, utilities typically call on power generators to increase or decrease the flow of electricity to match the demand, Reicher explained after his talk.

With Google’s smart-charging software, the plug-in electric vehicles could effectively fill that “grid regulation” role, Reicher said.

“You can tell the power generators to power up or you can tell 250 cars to stop charging. It’s exactly the same difference,” he said. “It could be that the car charges for two minutes and then goes off–whatever is most effective.”

Reicher also said Google is planning to announce partnerships with European utilities on its PowerMeter smart meter software.

Related links:

Google revs up charging for plug-ins (CNet, 18/06/09)
Google picks up PowerMeter partners, big and small (FT Energy Source, 20/05/09)
PowerMeter: Everyone loves a good Google theory (FT Energy Source, 11/02/09)