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BMW is successfully using its electric vehicle fleet to offer grid services in California

bmw charging

Last year, BMW announced the first trial of its ‘ChargeForward’ program to recruit BMW i3 owners willing to automatically delay the charging of their vehicle at the request of the local electric utility, PG&E, in order to offset peak demand.

This week BMW released the findings of the trial, which it deems successful, and it announced a second round of the program with more BMW i3 owners and for a longer period of time. 

The idea is quite simple. Under the program, PG&E can request BMW to delay the charging sessions of BMW i3 owners by up to an hour in order to reduce the load.

In return, owners are compensated for the possible inconvenience. For the first trial run, owners received a $1,000 “gift card” at the launch of the program and they were able to get up to $540 more based on how their charging sessions were affected. BMW is actually reducing the rewards for the second round, presumably because they realized that it was a lot of money for what they were asking of the i3 owners.

It’s important to note that owners can easily temporarily opt out of the program before starting a charging session if they absolutely need to charge. But if your car needs to charge, but it’s not urgent, you plug it in and if PG&E needs to offset demand, they will delay it and your car will take up to one more hour to charge.

BMW published its findings from the first round running between July 2015 and October 2016 and it looks like customer satisfaction was high:

  • Nearly 100 BMW PG&E customers in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area who own BMW i3 EVs participated in the pilot.
  • Satisfaction has been high with 92 percent of participants indicating they are very satisfied with the pilot and 86 percent indicating they would likely recommend it to family or friends.
  • A total of 192 demand response events took place between July 2015 and October 2016, with events scheduled through the end of 2016.
  • In 94 percent of the demand response events through October 2016, BMW successfully reached the full grid load reduction of 100 kW requested by PG&E.
  • By August 2016, more than 19,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) were shifted as a result of ChargeForward events, avoiding costly and carbon-intensive electricity generation.

The automaker also offered used BMW i3 battery packs as home energy storage systems to the program participants:BMW-Battery-storage

The i3 only has a 7.4 KW onboard charger. With 100 owners in the first trial run,  the company can only control 740 KW of the electric load in the impossible best case scenario, which is why BMW is was only offering 100 kW to PG&E and achieved it 94% of the time.

For the second run, BMW is now seeking more than 250 owners and it is opening the program up not only to BMW i3 all-electric owners, but also BMW i8 and iPerformance plug-in drivers (apply here). Participants can earn up to $900 for the second round with $300 upfront.

BMW will have a bigger capacity to offer to PG&E, but it doesn’t really make a dent in PG&E’s peak demand and it is still very much a pilot program, but now imagine if it stays successful at scale.

Imagine if Tesla was to offer the same service with its fleet of tens of thousands of electric vehicles in California. Alone, it could potentially offset megawatts worth of grid demand by delaying charging with permission from the owners. Electric utilities could have several partnerships with different electric automakers who in turn have similar programs with their owners.

Those kinds of grid services are still in the exploratory phase and BMW and PG&E should be commended for their effort. Ultimately, they could lead to the decommissioning of expensive and polluting “peaker plants” that are used only to support the grid when most needed – while also giving EV owners the opportunity to reduce their cost of ownership.

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