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IBM and the Future of EV Infrastructure

Click here to experience this article in our digital reader As gas prices continue to climb, the case for electric vehicles is stronger today than eve...

|Jul 9|magazine11 min read


Click here to experience this article in our digital reader

As gas prices continue to climb, the case for electric vehicles is stronger today than ever before. Advancements in battery technology and more options of vehicle models to choose from are grabbing the attention of consumers. However, the success of mass EV adoption is largely dependent on the availability of charging infrastructure.

“We’re currently facing a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario – infrastructure investment depends on sufficient vehicle totals and vehicle investment requires an efficiently deployed infrastructure to ensure customer needs are met,” says Clay Luthy, IBM Global Distributed Energy Resource Leader, Energy & Utilities Industry. “However, there are a number of efforts underway to seed the market and ensure infrastructure readiness. And as more vehicles become available, this will increase.”

In order for EVs to scale up, publicly available EV infrastructures such as those located in public parking garages, at work or at shopping malls will become increasingly important, especially in urban areas.

“Much like how ATMs are deployed at convenience stores, malls, and in kiosks in heavily trafficked areas, I think charge posts will follow a similar model,” says Luthy.

The big question remaining is how will we prepare for mass adoption of EVs? Will utilities and IT systems be equipped to manage an influx of EVs coming onto the grid?

IBM, in particular, is working on a variety of projects to develop the tools to answer those questions, and then some. In a project with Honda Motors and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), IBM is focusing on the communication aspect between EVs and the power gird. For the first time, an EV will receive a location-based charge schedule that is determined by current grid conditions within a matter of seconds, using data received from Honda Fit EV drivers and the rate of charge with grid data from PG&E. As grid conditions change, new charge instructions will be issued to ensure a balance between the grid and the EV owner's charging needs.

Read more in July's issue of Energy Digital: The Future of Transportation

“Currently we are using a pool of live vehicles, driven by real people, in a real environment to demonstrate the ability to create smart charging schedules, communicate these schedules to the vehicle using onboard telematics, and to dynamically update them in response to new conditions,” says Luthy.

The project will ensure that utilities and EVs will have a way to communicate, even if there is no communicating meter or charge post. In the short term, utilities will utilize insight into where EVs are located and their load requirements in order to make decisions that will ensure the necessary capabilities are in place to support those electricity requirements.

Smarter Charging—The Key for Electric Vehicles  

In other cities around the world, IBM is identifying the possibilities of connecting neighboring metropolitan areas with a network of public charging stations for EVs. In April, IBM announced a pilot project with Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna, Austria to test smart energy “feasibility” to help the cities prepare for EV adoption.

In other efforts, IBM is developing a breakthrough air-breathing battery for any electric car with a whopping 500 mile range—approximately five times the range of current EVs on the market today. It's considered to be one of the only types of batteries of its kind that could get close to the same energy density that gasoline has.

IBM Battery 500 Project

With so much on the table to offer, IBM is pursuing a holistic approach to ensure that the systems and services are in place to enable market growth in preparation for the future of transportation.

“...we are focusing on offerings that eliminate the uncertainty of supporting electric vehicles,” says Luthy. “We're helping to enable EV adoption by reducing the cost and risk to build, operate, and support EV infrastructure through comprehensive planning.”