Microsoft, Ford to create smart cars and an even smarter grid

31 Mar 2010

Software giant Microsoft has joined forces with vehicle maker Ford to work with the utility industry to pave the way for energy-efficient electric vehicles as well as smart controls for the home.

Microsoft and Ford today presented a vision of a future where your garage will be smart enough to tell your car the least expensive time to charge your plug-in vehicle and where, and via settings on your smartphone or laptop you can optimise the energy efficiency of home appliances, lights, air conditioning and heating.

About Microsoft Hohm

The companies are going to launch Microsoft Hohm, an internet-based service, to help electric vehicle owners optimise their vehicle recharging needs and better manage their home’s energy use.

Hohm can also help utilities understand and better manage the rise in energy demand expected from the surge in electric-vehicle ownership.

“The collaboration with Ford and Hohm allows us to create a user experience for drivers of plug-in cars that is simple and easy to use and has the potential to have a real impact on their energy cost,” explained Troy Batterberry, unit product manager for Microsoft Hohm.

While widespread use of electric vehicles may ease environmental problems, utilities face the challenge of supplying huge amounts of additional electricity on an aging grid system.

Electric cars and their impact on electric grid

A new North American study by the Independent Service Operator/Regional Transmission Organization Council examined what would happen if one million plug-in electric vehicles were added to the grid, a realistic scenario within the next 10 years.

Among the study’s key findings were that staggered charging of plug-in vehicles would reduce negative impact on electric load and that power companies will need new tools to manage growth in plug-in vehicle use.

That’s why many utilities are working with vehicle makers and Microsoft to help better inform consumers about their energy consumption. This data enables consumers to make better decisions based on what’s most important to them.

“Adding an electric vehicle to a household, it will become the single largest user of a household’s energy. Yet it’s powered the same way as your hair dryer or washing machine,” Batterberry said.

Some envision a time when utilities may be able to pull electricity stored in electric vehicle batteries to take stress off the grid in lieu of bringing an extra power plant online to handle peak use. People who authorise utilities to pull electricity from their car batteries could receive energy credits or a reduced billing rate. Though such a possibility remains distant, utilities must start preparing now.

“Our strategy is to provide a cohesive ecosystem where vehicle, home, devices and utilities work together. Partnerships with utilities are critical to this, think of them as the connective thread in this ecosystem,” Batterberry said.

Microsoft already has Hohm partnerships with five utility companies covering 8pc of the US population.

As Microsoft sets up alliances with more automakers, appliance companies and utilities, the average consumer will have access to a wealth of information about where energy is coming from and where it is going.

Consumers will be able to take specific action based on the information provided through Hohm to ensure heating or air conditioning systems, washers, dryers, ovens, lights and even electric-car-charging stations delivers optimal energy and cost efficiency.

By then, these days will be looked upon as the dark ages of electricity.

By John Kennedy

Photo: A concept image showing the Ford-Microsoft Hohm system in a Ford vehicle. The system is designed to help electric-vehicle owners optimise their vehicle recharging needs and better manage their home’s energy use

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years