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Published on January 6th, 2015 | by Tina Casey


EV Charging Wars: BMW Fires Another Salvo At Tesla

January 6th, 2015 by  

We’re calling this a friendly competition for now, but in the high-stakes US auto market it looks like BMW has armed itself with a new and powerful ally. Yesterday, BMW announced that it is pairing up with the California utility PG&E to offer the “i ChargeForward” EV charging incentive program, which will — you guessed it — pay BMW owners to respond to signals from the utility and adjust their EV charging accordingly.

We’ve taken to calling EVs “mobile energy storage units,” and ChargeForward takes it to the next level. The idea is to prevent brownouts and forestall the need to build expensive new power plants, by leveraging the collective energy storage capacity of thousands of EVs.

It’s the community benefit angle that has us intrigued. The potential payout is a more stable grid and lower electricity rates for the entire service territory. We’re not seeing a similar community benefit approach from Tesla, at least not yet. With that in mind, let’s take a look-see at the new ChargeForward program.

BMW PG&E EV charging ChargeForward

Courtesy of BMW (image cropped).

The ChargeForward EV Charging Program

The ChargeForward rollout is a modest pilot program, but the payoff could be spectacular if it succeeds. It consists of a 100-kilowatt electric demand management program to be run by BMW.

BMW’s part of the deal involves rounding up about 100 BMW i3 EV owners in the San Francisco Bay Area to participate in a demand-response EV charging program, which works through a smartphone app like this:

If PG&E needs to curb customer demand for whatever reason, it will send BMW an alert over the Internet, indicating how much load to cut and for how long. BMW then will signal the telemetry equipment in each.

If that sounds a bit radical, it’s really not. Basically, the program puts BMW, and its customer-participants, in a class similar to large industrial and commercial users, which have long received incentives to adjust their demand to avoid high peak periods, as needed by the grid (the flip or “stick” side for those large users is high demand charges, but that’s not a feature of the ChargeForward program).


From the utility’s perspective, these demand response programs save money by forestalling the need for new “peaking” plants, as well as new transmission and distribution upgrades.

PG&E also makes the point that better demand management translates into the ability to handle more renewable energy in the grid.

That’s a threefer not just for PG&E but for its customers, too: lower electricity costs, greater reliability, and more access to wind, solar, and other renewables.

BMW and EV Charging

On its part, BMW will recruit participants in ChargeForward by offering an up-front incentive that’s no chump change — $1,000 — as well as ongoing incentives based on their cooperation with the pilot program, which is slotted for an 18-month run.

As BMW sees it, the cost savings from EV charging through ChargeForward will make EV ownership even more attractive, resulting in increased sales.

If it works, in California’s oh-so-hot EV market, that figure of 100 participants could easily balloon into the thousands.

In regards to that community benefit angle — and the competition with Tesla — we took note last month when BMW’s head of EV sales started talking up the company’s plans for a nationwide EV charging network featuring fast DC charging with a standard SAE plug. That fits BMW and most other auto manufacturers except for Nissan (which seems to be doing pretty well on its own) and Tesla.

And speaking of alliances and fast-charging networks together, we also took note back in July when BMW announced that it was pairing up with utility giant NRG for fast-charging through its eVgo EV charging subsidiary.

By the way, all you EV owners out there in the Bay Area, if you want to join in the fun, the first step is to complete a pre-qualification survey at bmwichargeforward.com.

More Good News From BMW

But wait, there’s more. ChargeForward also has a battery recycling demo component, which consists of a stationary energy storage system cobbled together from eight BMW MINI E batteries that have passed their useful lifespan in mobile energy.

According to BMW, EV batteries still have at least 70% of their capacity, and you can put that to work in an integrated stationary system using solar power.

We can’t call this recycling or even up-cycling, so let’s call it cross-cycling. The new/old energy storage system will provide BMW with a platform for fulfilling its ChargeForward goals, ensuring that it can deliver PG&E’s grid demand as needed.

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About the Author

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+.

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