Will the timed charging of an electric vehicle (EV) require a house-wide energy management system?
EVs and home chargers will have built-in devices that can communicate with two-way smart meters to receive pricing and other signals from an electric utility. This will allow homeowners to charge an electric vehicle now or later, when electric rates may be cheaper. But that functionality may also be limited.
Through a partnership, Cisco’s tabletop Home Energy Controller (HEC) will display an interface for Ecotality’s Blink Network EV charging device so homeowners can access information about their EVs and control and monitor their EV charging—right from the kitchen or another room in the house.
Cisco’s HEC is a countertop touchscreen display that allows homeowners to monitor and control their home’s energy usage on a variety of appliances, electronics, HVAC systems—and now, an EV charging station. The systems will communicate with each other over industry standard Wi-Fi, and Ecotality is using Cisco Valet Plus to provide wireless connectivity in the homes.
The systems will also utilize the Cisco Home Energy Management Systems’ (HEMS) cloud-based utility services. An optional set of compatible peripherals can be wirelessly connected to the HEC in order to provide monitoring and control of energy loads such as HVAC systems, pool pumps, water heaters, appliances, and other devices.
“Smart meter networks are quite limited in what they can do,” says Larry O’Connell, Cisco’s manager of product marketing.. “On a broadband network, you can control a number of different networks in the home, and use the network to see the change and effect.”
The Blink Home Charging Station is classified as a Level 2 (240 volt AC input) charging station. The smart charger is equipped with with a 7-inch touch screen display where users can control the Blink Network charger interface and intelligent cost-saving features that allow EV owners to charge their EVs safely and securely, says Ecotality.
The advantage of using a display like Cisco’s? More control for the home and car owner. An intelligent home energy manager should read variable Time of Use pricing from a utility, for example, to automatically set charging times, according to the homeowner’s preprogrammed preferences. Such systems should also be operable via smartphones and mobile devices—and they should save plenty of trips to the garage to program and reprogram charging options. It will also be convenient to have all of one’s energy management controls in one place. And the Blink/Cisco solution could help manage charging costs for EVs.
Cisco’s HEC will also report on a home’s energy usage, a fact not lost on Ecotality. “Seeing energy use in real time is important, and so is being engaged in the making decisions in real time,” says Charlie Carpinteri, director of information technology for Ecotality.
Cisco and Ecotality say that in the short term, the system will be primarily used to enact smart grid-based demand response events, in which homeowners can opt into a program that allows utilities to shed electric loads during peak load periods by turning down or turning off power-hungry appliances. Homeowners in trial and pilot programs are often rewarded a small discount for opting into demand response, also called demand side management, programs.
The companies may not wait for smart grid rollouts, however, and are also eyeing deployments through broadband service and security providers such as ADT, Comcast and Verizon, which are marketing home control connectivity services to mass market homes and with plans for some basic energy management.
Ecotality is looking at thermostat control though its Blink Network in the future.
“Ecotality represents another interesting way to bring [Cisco’s home energy management system] to market,” says O’Connell.
The companies are looking do conduct a trial of the system through the EV Project, a government-funded study that is deploying EV chargers in markets served by the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt plug-in electric vehicles. The EV Project is taking place in 16 cities throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and Washington D.C. This will give the program a chance to assess lessons learned from tests in these markets and provide a roadmap for widespread EV use.
EV car owners in qualifying Zip codes will get an Ecotality charger for free,
The 16 cities include Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Salem, Ore.; Corvallis, Ore.; Eugene, Ore.; Los Angeles; San Diego; Phoenix; Tucson; Dallas; Houston; Fort Worth, Texas; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Nashville, Tenn.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Washington, D.C. The project will deploy 14,650 Level 2 charging stations (6-8 hour charging), 310 DC fast charging ports (partial charging in 30 minutes) for the planned rollouts of 5,700 Nissan LEAFs and 2,600 Chevy Volts.
Partners including Best Buy, Cracker Barrel and BP, who have signed up to host public charging stations at select locations. That’s right: Charge your car at Best Buy while you shop for more high-tech goodies. The EV Project will last until the end of 2012.
Cisco says its trial programs with utilities have shown what many homeowners want in demand response events—and that they want control and simplicity. “There is a clear message from consumers that they want choice and control,” says O’Connell, so the Cisco HEC will allow an override of any demand response event that shuts down an appliance like an EV charger, for instance.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates