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Cars BMW i series EVs will get home solar power

Published on April 30th, 2013 | by Tina Casey

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Dude, Where’s My Electric Mobility?

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April 30th, 2013 by
 
The tipping point between electric vehicles and gasoline power is still far away in the distance, but the changeover has been accelerating with lightning speed over the past couple of years. The raw sales figures only tell a small part of the tale. What really matters is the way that auto manufacturers have begun rolling out integrated EV systems that go beyond promoting vehicle ownership as a form of self expression, to recast the car as an intimate member of a mobile household.

For an example of that dynamic, take a look at BMW, which is rolling out the new BMW i plug-in series later this year and has just announced a package deal with the German solar company SOLARWATT.

BMW i series EVs will get home solar power

SOLARWATT carport courtesy of BMW.

The BMW i Electric Mobility Concept

The two vehicles involved in the solar partnership include the all-electric BMW i3 and the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid. Earlier this year, BMW described the i series this way:

“BMW i stands for visionary vehicles and mobility services, inspirational design and a new interpretation of premium that is strongly defined by sustainability…With its tailor-made vehicle concepts, sustainability across the entire value chain and complementary mobility services, BMW i redefines the concept of individual mobility.”

That’s good as far as it goes, but two key angles are missing. One is access to sustainable fuel, and the other is the fully integrated EV lifestyle model. In other words, conventional auto marketing has focused on your identity as a driver, while EVs offer the potential to identify your lifestyle while it’s parked in your garage.

BMW took a step in both directions last year by partnering with the German company Naturstrom AG to provide BMW i buyers with a renewable energy package for EV charging.

That still leaves the household intimacy angle, which BMW plans to address through its 360° Electric home charging station concept in partnership with Schneider Electric and The Mobility House, a specialist in charging and battery management solutions.

The idea is to take full advantage of the fact that if through EV ownership a person’s home is not just their castle but a gas station as well, it better be a nice-looking, worry free gas station with the same kind of seamless setup, maintenance and repair routine that you expect from any high-end household appliance dealer.

BMW i and SOLARWATT

The big move came just last week, when BMW announced a partnership between BMW i and SOLARWATT, the German solar company.

Under the agreement, BMW i buyers can also buy the “attractively designed” SOLARWATT carport photovoltaic system, featuring the BMW i Wallbox home charging station.

That brings energy harvesting right into the castle keep. Rather than purchasing renewable energy through the grid mix, BMW i owners can get a direct solar power charge through the carport energy management system, with some left over for other household appliances.

The SOLARWATT system also includes a smart interface that enables homeowners to exercise energy conservation strategies that cut their reliance on grid-supplied electricity.

Ford MyEnergi Lifestyle

That brings us right around to a competing system under way at Ford Motor Company, the MyEnergi Lifestyle package.

When we first took note of MyEnergi earlier this year, Ford seemed to be reaching for a more nuts-and-bolts market than BMW’s sustainability pitch.

Basically, MyEnergi asks EV buyers to think of their car as the largest electrical appliance they will ever own, one that integrates seamlessly with every other appliance in the house whether it’s out on the road or shunted away in the garage.

The nexus of that integration, according to Ford’s Global Director of Vehicle Infrastructure Mike Tinksey, is the fact that renewable energy enables cars and homes to rely on the same fuel for the first time in automotive history.

With that in mind, Ford teamed with Eaton, SunPower, Whirlpool, Infineon, and smart thermostat innovator Nest Labs to develop a fully mobile, interactive system with a proprietary database for Ford’s new plug-in C-Max Energi series and other Ford EVs.

In communication with smart, energy efficient household appliances, the system provides Ford EV owners with the ability to micro-manage their energy consumption to take full advantage of their local utility’s off-peak rates, as well as any on site solar power they’re harvesting. That saves money and it also cuts carbon to the extent that the grid mix typically includes more renewable energy during off-peak hours.

The mobile connectivity of the system pushes micro-management to another level by enabling EV owners to make on-the-fly adjustments to the system as needed  (brownout alerts being one example), whether they’re home or not.


Taking the whole home-EV nexus to the next logical step, just a couple of weeks ago the mega-builder KB home launched a new iteration of its ZeroHouse 2.0 production house in San Marcos, California, which comes complete with a MyEnergi Lifestyle package from Ford.

KB’s marketing pitch dovetails with Ford’s, in that it emphasizes how the all-electric home/car ownership package can be just as affordable as conventional ownership.

Getting back to our original point, it’s clear enough that EV technology has enabled auto manufacturers to enter new markets and form new partnerships at a relatively breakneck pace, leading to a whole new generation of innovation.

In that regard, as much as cars and gasoline have been joined at the hip for the past century, the petroleum industry is quickly becoming a liability to the automotive sector, and it’s only a matter of time before the tipping point arrives.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Otis11

    “tipping point between electric vehicles and gasoline power is still far away in the distance” – It’s much closer than you seem to think… with the Nissan Leaf down to 22K and many others not far behind we have reached parity for many drivers… and with Tesla promising a 200 mile range for ~30k by 2017 as well as the assured advances by the industry majors, this will only grow.

    With that, I think it’s arguable that we have already reached the tipping point (or will VERY soon) – it’s now simply a matter of getting over the crest!

    • Bob_Wallace

      MSRP for the Chevy Volt is $31,645 after federal subsidies. GM has stated that they are working to bring the cost down $10,000 with the next model.

      Even if federal subsidies were to go away people could purchase a Volt in the mid-$20k range, do 85% of their driving with electricity and still have all the range of any gasmobile.

      EVs and PHEVs are starting to pour into the market. Essentially every car manufacturer is marketing one or more. And we have brand new companies such as Tesla in the game.

      Competition and larger manufacturing volumes will be bringing prices down.

      I’d say we’re tipping right now….

      • JT

        Problem with electric vehicles there still depend upon and rely upon fossil fuels in order to charge the batteries usually at night time.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Wrong.

        • Otis11

          First, even if you burn coal, it is still more efficient to run an electric vehicle than a comparable ICE (not sure how hybrids compare – do you know Bob?)

          Second, charging during off peak times (night) has an inherent advantage of levelizing demand, so regardless of what power source you are using (FF, Nuclear, Geothermal) you can achieve higher efficiency since you do not have to cycle the plant. (This is why power companies give lower rates at night)

          Third, while solar output may decrease at night, demand drops so significantly that Wind makes up for this, meaning the off peak times have the most renewable energy on the grid as a percentage of electricity used.

          By the time we have enough EVs on the road to negate even one of these points (by significantly increasing overnight demand), I would suspect that we will have (and in many areas already do have) enough renewables to keep it as the best option.

          Sure, EVs aren’t for everyone (yet), but they will be soon. (Just for reference, it doesn’t make sense for me to drive an EV as my average trip is 180+ miles with many extending past the 500 mile mark. But even for me, EVs aren’t that far away…)

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ve read three studies. Two found that if you run on 100% coal-produced electricity then a bit more CO2 gets created. One found a bit less. Someone would have to dig into the studies to figure out what assumptions were made that created the differences.

            Bottom line, for me, there aren’t any 100% coal powered grid. I don’t know of a grid that doesn’t have some renewable or nuclear inputs. That means that you’re pretty much guaranteed that an EV or PHEV will put less CO2 into the environment than a gasmobile.

            And it will only get better.

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