By David R. Baker - San Francisco Chronicle
Some Bay Area drivers of the BMW i3 electric hatchback may soon qualify for an odd perk — getting paid to delay recharging their cars.
Drivers who participate in the German automaker’s new i ChargeForward program will receive up to $1,540 in return for letting BMW delay the recharging process whenever California’s electricity grid faces a heavy strain. The delays are expected to last no longer than an hour.
The experimental program — developed by BMW and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — will test one way to ensure that electric vehicles don’t burden the grid as their popularity slowly grows. If it works well, it could lead to a future in which EV drivers get paid for helping to maintain the grid’s stability. And that money could, in turn, offset the price of electric cars, which still cost substantially more than their gasoline-burning brethren.
“If they will provide us grid service, we can provide them some incentives that will help lower the cost of these vehicles,” said James Ellis, PG&E’s director of electric vehicle programs.
The new program, announced by PG&E and BMW Monday, is just one of many efforts under way to study how best to plug electric cars into the grid. A consortium of automakers, including BMW, is developing a standardized communication platform that will let utilities communicate with their customers’ EVs, letting utilities balance charging times among thousands of customers. Some researchers are also studying ways to use electric cars as big batteries that could feed power to the grid when necessary.
That won’t be part of the BMW experiment.
Instead, BMW and PG&E want to see if they can persuade drivers to give up a little control over recharging times, to prevent electric cars from straining the grid when power supplies are low. It’s similar to the “demand response” programs that utilities already run, which typically give big businesses a break on electricity bills in return for agreeing to cut power use during emergencies.
Starting this month, BMW will seek online applications from Bay Area i3 drivers willing to participate in the program. Those interested can register at www.bmwichargeforward.com. The program will enroll 100 drivers, who will receive $1,000 up-front.
Whenever power supplies on the electricity grid run low — say during summer afternoons — PG&E will send a notice to those drivers through a BMW smartphone app. The notice will warn them that their plugged-in cars will temporarily stop charging. Drivers who absolutely need a full charge can use the smartphone app to opt out, ensuring that charging continues.
At the end of the program, in late 2016, drivers will receive a second payment worth up to $540, based on the number of times they let the system delay charging.
In all likelihood, not all participating drivers will agree to delay charging each time the system sends an alert — they could be on the road or know they need a full charge soon. So BMW will tap a bank of used electric-car batteries, located at the automaker’s technology office in Mountain View, to make up the difference, sending PG&E enough electricity to make up for the drivers who opted out.
“That’s our way we’re ensuring that we always meet our commitment to PG&E while never sacrificing mobility for our customers,” said Julia Sohnen, an advanced technology engineer in sustainable mobility for BMW.