Could Ford Be at the Center of the Connected Home?
Auto maker collaborating on solar, smart appliance, smart thermostat initiatives
What company is poised to have a huge impact on the connected home? Well, Ford may be onto something. That’s right: Ford Motor Co.
Not only is the automaker rolling out electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), at the Consumer Electronics Show in January it announced a Ford MyEnergi Lifestyle collaboration with SunPower solar, Whirlpool appliances, Eaton electrical, Infineon semiconductors and Nest Labs, which makes the retro-cool Nest Learning Thermostat (read our review of the Nest 2 Learning Thermostat).
Whirlpool will offer smart appliances like clothes washers, a dishwasher and refrigerator. Eaton will provide an EV charger, a Solar EV Ready Load Center with Whole-Home Surge Protection (an electrical service box with solar inputs and room for 20-amp or 40-amp circuit breakers for EV charging), a generator and a Green Transfer Switch that automatically sheds non-vital loads when the generator comes on.
A computer model by the Georgia Institute of Technology predicts a 60 percent reduction in energy costs by using all of the MyEnergi products. The goal with Nest, says Donna Bell, Ford’s manager of Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, is to use Nest’s analytics to understand how energy-saving decisions are made, then take that to an across-the-board solution that can manage all the energy in your home. Hmmmm ….
The companies will initially market their various products separately, but they each have their own cloud-based apps, which can use Ford’s “value charging” technology developed for its EV charging. Value charging is included in Ford’s plug-in vehicles and contains a database of Time of Use utility rates, which vary depending on the time of day. Drivers can turn on value charging via the MyFord mobile app to charge the cars at the cheapest times (often overnight).
The power of Ford’s utility database is that it doesn’t need a two-way communicating smart meter to deliver that rate info, as utilities are still working toward rolling out smart meters.
And what of the solar piece? Solar (photovoltaic, or PV) allows people to defray the electricity costs of charging their EVs, and essentially have them operate by the power of the sun. Tie the solar system to the EV, and you “get a true smart energy home,” says Jeremy Novotney, product manager for Energy and Residential Products Division for Eaton.
Novotney says the collaborative is working together to have one singular app that everything feeds into.
The MyEnergi Lifestyle program is still in development. This year a contest-winning home will get the systems, and their use with them will be studied for a year. A bigger rollout is due for 2014.
Until then, we’ll no doubt see more interest in people wanting to have EVs and charge them via solar panels. And in many areas, you don’t have to pony up five figures to get solar. You can lease panels at a rate lower than your electricity bill, so you’re guaranteed to save. Another financing option, Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) are like leases only that you pay for the production of the power, again at a lower rate than your electric bill.
Ford already has a partnership with SunPower to offer buyers of its electric vehicles a Drive Green for Life solar system that provides a system sized to charge an EV for 12,000 miles of driving a year. If you’re interested in leasing a solar system and want to add EV charging later, consider having it sized up to accommodate your needs. According to Novotney, about a 4-kilowatt system will provide enough for 12,000 miles of EV driving a year.
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