Intelligent Energy

Electric car to solar panel: You available?

Posting in Energy

Electric car owners in Zurich who want to charge up on green energy can have their battery contact a utility's solar panels and wind turbines. A trial starts with an IBM app and a Renault Twingo.

Electric car owners in Zurich who want to charge up with green energy can have their battery communicate with a local utility’s solar panels and find out whether the panels are producing at that point in time.

If they are, the battery can instruct the utility to send electricity.

It’s part of a small trial between IBM and Swiss utility EKZ involving an app, cloud computing services and a phonebook sized data-recording device installed on “several” EVs including a Renault Twingo, an IBM press release states. The device was developed by Zurich University.

The app also lets the car owner hand over charging responsibility to EKZ, which can schedule charge-ups when sun and wind power is available, and better manage its peak load generation.

One knock on EVs is that they’re only as green as the form of electricity that feeds them – coal-base electricity does not reduce a car’s carbon footprint as much as renewable electricity does. But wind and solar sources do not furnish constant electricity the way coal does. The app can help assure the car charges only when the sun shines or the wind blows. (Although the bigger step will come when utilities switch to 100 percent renewable, taking the guesswork out).

The app runs on mobile devices, tablets and web browsers.

In addition, owners can read the app while they’re away from their car – say, in the office or even thousands of miles away – to check how much charge remains.

All the more reason why cars might one day come for “free” as part of a service package from a utility, a mobile phone company or an internet provider (see “free cars” links below).

Photo: BP Solar

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure