PLAINFIELD — If there truly is such a thing as a “smart car,” the latest offering from Toyota might be on its way to an Ivy League school. Imagine an electric car where the driver can come home, plug the vehicle into a charger box in their garage, have the car find the most affordable time to charge up, and then get it done in time for the morning commute.
Energy Systems Network (ESN), Duke Energy, and Toyota are partnering to roll out what is called Project Plug-IN, a program that will allow five Duke Energy customers an opportunity to drive one of the new Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid cars for at least 12 months, using the new technology that allows them to charge their vehicle when rates are lowest, thus cutting down on energy costs, as the car charger actually communicates with the utility company to negotiate the best price.
The Prius Plug-in is rated at running at 95 miles per gallon equivalent. If shifted into hybrid mode, it delivers a combined mileage rating of 50 miles per gallon.
ESN currently has nearly 200 charging stations across the Indianapolis region.
“We are launching a world class pilot project that will demonstrate the breakthrough renovations in the plug in vehicle and smart grid industries,” announced Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of ESN, the non-profit industry initiative that leads the effort. “Imagine driving home from work and when you plug your car in the garage, it actually shops for the lowest efficient fuel for you. That’s what’s possible with a truly smart grid, and a truly smart car. Testing and proving these concepts and technologies will allow customers to get the most out of their plug in vehicles and their energy bills automatically.”
Toyota will be providing a UL certified home charging station and home gateway communication system to be installed in the users’ homes, allowing the vehicle to interact with the smart grid equipment to communicate with one another to evaluate billing and power supply control.
“This is an important step in advancing electric vehicle mobility in the United States,” added Ed Mantey, vice president of vehicle planning and corporate strategy for Toyota. “One challenge is the availability of cost efficient energy. We need industry standards to seamlessly deliver cost effective energy through the power provider network to smart chargers for smart vehicles.
“The key to the success of this pilot program is communication. When connected to the car charger, the vehicle communicates important information to the charger, such as state of charge, whether it’s empty or full, urgency charging, and other factors that help the charger know when the battery charging should take place and how quickly.”
Current vehicles are restricted by immediate or pre-programmed charging schedules that do not necessarily minimize power costs or optimize power leveling, Mantey explained.
“The charging station then communicates to the utility to determine if an alternate charge time, or power level, will help the customer take advantage of a lower cost charge,” he said. “With this info, the customer can input if a delayed charge can give them the charge they need for their next trip. In most cases of using a smart charger, the customer will be able to take advantage of lower energy rates when charging is delayed to non peak hours.”
Keeping customer safety in the forefront of their minds was also a part of the initiative, Mantey said, adding that multiple layers of protection are in place to alleviate customer fears of potentially dealing with high voltage energies.
“This communication protocol is based on the society of automotive engineers SAE J2931 standard, which is currently undergoing rigorous testing by independent laboratories,” he said.
David Mohler, vice president of engineering technology at Duke Energy, said another foal is to spread the demand of costs that customers would later have to pay.
“A third goal is to give our customers the ability to remotely control and monitor the energy they use for vehicle charging and actually manage it the way they want it and be able to do that with the same type of simplicity that you’re able to program your TiVo from your smart phone,” Mohler said. “We think it’s pretty groundbreaking for the industry and will not only advance electrical transportation but will also set new industry standards.”
Mantey said the smart phone technology is a long-term goal and will not be a part of the pilot program.
“We’re actually working on where you can use the smart phone to check the energy level of your vehicle so you know what percentage charged it is, or implement a change of schedule,” he said. “For instance, if you scheduled for a delayed charge but change your plans and want to leave earlier, you can check the range and say that I need to have an additional charge. So you can turn it on there by your phone in the future. That’s our long-term goal.”
The five Duke customers in the pilot program have not yet been determined.
Indiana Secretary of Commerce Dan Hasler effused praise for the pilot program and what it means to Hoosiers. Indiana is the number two automobile producing state in the U.S., he said.
“Hoosiers in every corner of our state produced over 880,000 cars and light trucks in 2011 at a growth rate of nearly 15 percent since 2009,” he said.
Hasler noted that the three millionth Toyota vehicle built in Indiana recently took place and the company in February announced an investment of an additional $131 million into its Princeton plant to consolidate Highlander production, both for export and hybrid versions.
“With our over 5,400 young engineering graduates every year in Indiana, opportunities made possible by Duke, ESN, and Toyota reaffirm Indiana is not only the best state for production and deployment of cutting edge robotics, automation, and logistics, but also a place of research and innovation,” Hasler said.