GM, OnStar Attempt First Real World Smart Grid Test With Chevy Volt

In the future, electric cars will work together with the smart grid to charge at off-peak hours and put energy back into the grid when it’s needed. For the first time, we’re seeing this plan in action.

Chevy Volt charging


Automakers and power companies have talked for years about the day when electric cars could work together with the smart grid by charging only during off-peak times and even giving energy in their batteries back to the grid. These are innovations that would allow electricity producers to better forecast demand, set power rates, and offer incentives for people to charge up their EVs at off-hours.

For the first time, we’ll get to see how this plays out in the real world–sort of–now that GM and OnStar are teaming up to launch the first real-world pilot of smart grid solutions for EVs. Hundreds of regional utility employees in Raleigh, NC will start Chevy Volts everyday, all as part of an effort to gather real-time data on how EVs affect the grid.

The pilot will use OnStar’s Advanced Telematics Operations Management System (ATOMS) to remotely offer  utilities information about a vehicle’s overall charge level and charging
history (time and location)–without having
the Volt connect to a charge point. Ideally, this will give local utilities more insight into how they should set electricity rates, when peak demand will occur, and where the ideal spots for charging infrastructure are located.

OnStar’s system will also allow utilities to offer discounts to encourage Volt drivers to charge when electricity demand is lowest (usually in the early morning). The pilot should provide better information on when real-world drivers want to charge up–and how much of a difference discounts make.

GM hasn’t revealed when its technology will move out of the pilot stage. And eventually, we may see utilities implementing two-way EV-to-grid communications networks, with charge stations that can both juice up EVs and send power from EV batteries to the grid during peak demand periods. But first, there have to be some actual EVs on the road–when was the last time you saw one cruising down your street?

[Image: Flickr user NRMAdriversseat]


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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.