At the moment, electric vehicles are not a burden on the electric grid. The energy demand for electric cars is only a drop in the massive bucket that is the electric infrastructure of developed countries, but it could change fast with the demand for EVs steadily increasing. BMW is one of the rare big automaker embracing the industry’s transition from combustion engines to electric powertrains and the company expects EVs to account for a significant portion of the electricity demand in the future.

To limit the effect of EVs on the grid’s capacity, BMW is testing a program to incentivize BMW i3 owners to charge their cars at specific hours of the day when the demand is low. Last week they launched the initiative under the program: “BMW i ChargeForward”. 

The company is recruiting 100 BMW i3 owners who are also PG&E customers in the Bay Area to participate in the program. The owners will receive a $1,000 “gift card” at the launch of the program and they can get up to $540 more based on how they charge their car during the pilot program.

Under the program, PG&E, a California based electric utility, can request BMW to manage the charging sessions of BMW i3 owners in order to “control” the load. Now ,the i3 only has a 7.4 KW on-board charger, meaning that in the best case scenario, the company can only control 740 KW of load, BMW is talking about 100 KW which is more realistic, but in both case it represents an insignificant demand on the grid.

But testing grid capacity doesn’t seem to be the goal of this pilot program.

Here’s how it works:

  1. PG&E contacts the BMW server and requests load drop (up to 100 kW total).
  2. BMW i selects vehicles for delayed charging of up to one hour, determined in part based on owners’ desired departure time as communicated via the BMW i Remote app. BMW i notifies impacted customers, who can “opt out” as desired. The stationary battery storage system provides PG&E with supplemental power, as needed.
  3. Smart meters installed by PG&E verify that total desired load drop is achieved.

The initiative appears to be testing the flexibility of EV owners when it comes to charging their cars. BMW likely wants to know at which point not being able to charge your car becomes an inconvenience .

In a world where electric vehicles would represent a significant portion of the global fleet, a program such at this one would be able to control gigawatts or maybe even terawatts worth of power demand. Understanding the limits of customer satisfaction on a smaller scale can be extremely valuable.

I can’t wait to see the results. If you are participating, we’d like to hear about your experience. Don’t hesitate to let us know your thoughts about the program: TwitterFacebook

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