Many utilities charge more for power during the day, when most people are using the grid, and less at night, when people are asleep. So, if you want to cut energy consumption, it makes sense to switch more activities to the wee hours.
Ford already offers a "value charging app," so its plug-in vehicle users can automatically charge up when the price is lowest. But the car-maker isn’t satisfied with that part of the energy bill, only. It also sees a role for itself with other appliances, too—say washing machines, or home heating systems.
The company’s "MyEnergi Lifestyle" is an alliance with appliance giant Whirlpool, solar panel supplier SunPower, smart-meter-maker Infineon, thermostat startup Nest Labs, and power management supplier Eaton, to see how much consumers could save by optimizing their equipment and using the cheapest electricity. The answer: a lot. According to a model prepared by Georgia Tech, a typical family could save 60% of its costs over a year by adopting the full portfolio.
The biggest saving comes from installing 5KW of solar panels ($2,000 in savings a year), followed by an investment in Ford’s new C-Max plug-in hybrid ($1,700 saved). Then, there are savings from doing things like ice-making, defrosting the fridge, and or heating water when power is cheaper late at night. The figures are based on a two-car family taking one EV, and throwing out appliances dated 1995 to 2000. In addition, the model also showed the portfolio delivering a 55% cut in CO2 emissions, or 9,000 kilograms of carbon a year.
"One thing we’re finding is that utilities are putting a lot more complexity in their rates—multiple peak hour periods, summer time of use, winter time of use, and so on. And we don’t want the customer to have to manage that," says Mike Tinskey, Ford’s global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure. MyEnergi lets people use Ford’s "value charging" database for products like Whirlpool dishwashers. About 43 million households across the country now have access to flexible "time of use" rates.
Ford’s initiative shows how carmakers could play a role in home energy management. In the next few years, they could allow electric vehicle owners to use their batteries to store excess power from a solar panel, or as a back-up in an emergency (Japanese households are doing it already, following the tsunami). Or, they might enable you to lease the battery to a utility for grid stabilization (so-called V2G).
Ford’s vehicles don’t currently allow bi-directional charging. But Tinskey says he expects that to start appearing after 2015. "We think [vehicle to home] will be closer to near-term, with V2G a little bit more mid-term, only because we want to make sure that everything we do is extremely safe," he says.