A newly initiated test pilot program by a California utility company has owners of BMW electric cars incentivized to postpone charging their battery-driven vehicles to periods when the power grid is not under pressure.
One hundred owners of BMW AG’s i3 hatchback got $1, 000 upfront to enter the Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s 18-month program, scheduled to begin this week and stretching across the San Francisco Bay Area. “My understanding is that we’ll get a text message that says ‘Hey, you’re charging your car right now, can you back off for an hour?’” said Peter Berman, a 70-year-old, semi-retired Los Altos psychologist that was selected to take part in the pilot. The PG&E-BMW pilot is one of many such experiments trialed across the globe as utilities try to anticipate and adapt to the (probable) future when millions of electric autos would roam the city streets and highways. And the issues come with challenges and compromises: for example when the grid is too strained because too many cars are plugged at the same time the power companies could pay drivers to use the electricity stored in their batteries while the cars are parked.
PG&E believes there could be around 65,000 electric vehicles across its massive northern California service territory, the highest tally of such vehicles than anywhere in the US. The newly introduced iChargeForward pilot developed with BMW is part of the utility’s so-called demand response program: they now call on industrial customers and large building owners to lower electricity consumption when there’s not enough supply.