These days, it makes sense to think about ways to improve our ways to have less impact on the environment.  Besides being the “right thing to do”, there tends to be an improvement on the bottom line (both for businesses and for individuals) to “going green”.  For many, the biggest impact they can have on their environmental footprint is to use a plug-in electric car, or at the very least, a vehicle that allows for the first section of driving to be done exclusively on battery power before switching over to an internal combustion engine.

This seems to be such a great idea, but could there be some drawbacks?  Well, talk to any grid planners from the Utility companies and they will tell you that electric cars keep them up at night.  The reason?  Imagine a hot summer day at about 6 pm.  Everyone gets home after their long hard day at work and plugs in their a time when many people are cooking dinner and in many parts of the country, they have their AC blasting full to cool their house down.  You don’t have to be an electrical engineer to see that this movie might not have a pretty ending.

That started me to think....what are some of the other issues that we have to deal with if we are all going to consider using plug-in type cars?  How about “range anxiety”?  How about maximizing the life of the battery? are we going to prevent straining the electrical grid from the extra load on the system that plugging in our cars at the same time will create?

Issue #1 - Range Anxiety

As I have written in the past, I work from my home.  As such, I don’t really use my car all that much.  As well, after keeping track of my driving usage for a few months, I discovered that the majority of my round-trips that I took (by myself) were under 35km / 22 miles.  As such, I should be the perfect candidate for a plug-in hybrid, especially given we have another car that is gas-powered.  However, like many, the idea of being stranded due to a low battery after being caught in an unexpected traffic jam is enough to keep me going to the gas pumps.

While today’s electric cars do a great job of keeping the drivers informed about the status of their battery (including offering tips on how to maximize usage in real time), we need to do more.  With the increase in the number of remote charging stations (i.e. many municipalities are installing them in schools, public facilities and on the side of many roadways), we are starting to see the number of quick-charge locations increase.  However, we STILL need to do more.

One idea (and please let me know if someone is doing this) is to better align the telematics on-board electric cars with the charging stations.  As an example, your vehicle can to let you know when you are in a low-battery situation (and it does this today), but it would be great if it would take the next steps......How about letting you know proactively where the closest charging stations is?  How about sending a message to that station to reserve a spot for you when you get there?  How about proactively letting you know, based on your expected trip (which you punched into your GPS), where the necessary charging stations are (and booking you a reserved spot when you get there)?  Again, if these things are being done today, send me a note.

Issue #2 - The battery

I haven’t been able to find an absolutely definite answer for this, but it goes without saying that a lot of oil is used in the production of the Lithium Ion battery that powers most electric cars.  Since these batteries are expensive and do not recycle well, we need to ensure we are doing what we can to maximize their lifespan while reducing the cost to make them (to allow the technology to be more massively deployed).

M2M solutions can help, both locally and remotely, to accomplish these goals.  Within the vehicle, the current models offer some great information for the driver to see a wide variety of information to help them avoid unnecessary charges and running out of battery power.  However, I wonder if the automakers are doing a good job getting information from vehicles. This can range from a variety of things – from how vehicles are actually used (such as the amount of engine idling / average distance per trip), how the battery is actually holding its charge under a lot of real-life usage scenarios (such as extreme temperature, elevation and how it handles loaded situations such as when the maximum cargo capacity is used).  This information would help to detect issues for the battery (to better prepare for any potential recalls or increases in service calls), as well as find ways to improve the long-term viability of these devices.

Issue #3 - The strain on the power grid

Now, the real issue.  So, how do we deal with the issue of such a potentially huge drain on our already tapped power grids?  I mean....if we see brown and blackouts now, what will happen when we add in the charging requirements of a huge amount of vehicle plug-ins?

There are a few ways that M2M can help:

  • Avoiding unnecessary charging  This refers to some of the points above, but if we can find ways to better manage the battery through the use of M2M solutions, there will not be as much charging required once the driver is back home.  This may mean better usage and it also could mean that more charging is done throughout the day.
  • Charge when the grid is not as busy  One idea here is that all plug-in hybrids that are using a home-based charging station would have to register via a portal with the utility company.  The Utility company can use algorithms (based on the amount of charging required, the expected departure time of the driver and the voltage of the charging system) to turn on/off the charger based on the network availability.  The Utility could go one step further to notify the driver via text if there will be a shortage on the network that may affect the charging of their vehicle (such as a spike in usage due to warm weather).  This is being done today, in at least trials, by a few utilities.
  • As part of an overall smart grid solution  One would think that the Utility companies would be placing a high priority on electrical cars (considering that many government agencies are heavily promoting/subsidizing the purchase).  As such, any plan to accommodate the expected increased power demand of electric vehicles will need to find ways to control the usage of other items.  Items that are less vital (such as pool pumps and the use of dishwashers during prime hours) will have to be controlled to allow for these vehicles to be charged when needed.  One idea being used by many utilities is to use the mesh networks that are currently being installed as part of the Smart meter initiatives.  In this way, Utility companies would have a direct wireless connection to many of these non-vital items, allowing them to better calculate their usage.  Today, electrical companies are able to manipulate pool pumps and window-mounted AC units as needed....this needs to be expanded.

Bottom Line

I think when the automakers/government agencies started to heavily promote electric vehicles, they probably did not involve many important groups (such as the Utilities) in their discussions.  Our current power grids are already stretched during many parts of the year, so some intelligent solutions (such as those offered by M2M) will be needed to allow us to grow this market while still having power for other things.  As well, we need to do a better job in taking away some of the issues in the use of plug-in electric vehicles....things that M2M solutions can definitely help!

As always, let Novotech know how we can help with your M2M needs, such as antenna selection.  Browse our site @ or feel free to reach out to me directly ....larry(@)  You can also follow us on Twitter (@NovotechM2M) and you can follow me personally as well (@LBNovotechM2M).