Ford Announces Plan to Standardize Electric Supply for Battery Electric Vehicles

In an announcement made Tuesday, Ford said that its electric vehicles will be designed to communicate with power grids nationwide. This inter-connectivity will allow future owners of the company’s electric autos to precisely control when, and for how long, they charge their vehicle’s batteries.

In the announcement, Ford detailed its pending collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and ten utility companies to develop the system. The goal of the project, according to the automaker, is to increase consumer interest in alternative energy automobiles.

Ford is scheduled to make its first battery electric vehicle available in 2010. The Transit Connect is a mid-size van designed for commercial use. Ford also plans to begin selling a battery electric version of its internationally successful, compact-size, Focus in 2011.

Ford Motor Company’s chairman, Bill Ford, Jr., says, “This can’t just be an interesting science experiment. This has to be something that makes people’s lives better and easier and that is what our dialogue is all about.”

Despite speculation that the move to all electric vehicles will place an unsustainable burden on electric providers, utility companies claim that their grids are up to the task. Some vehicle owners will no doubt need to upgrade or add additional equipment in their homes depending on the voltage requirements of their particular models.

Mike Ligett is the director of emerging technology for Progress Energy, Incorporated headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ligett says, “The grid is ready now but on a lower technology basis.” He is confident that the electrical energy industry is prepared to meet the demands of battery electric vehicles and says, “We are not concerned about energy consumption, but more about when it’s used.”

Ford is not the only domestic automaker making the move to alternative energy vehicles. General Motors has generated a lot of ink over the last year as it has moved closer to releasing the Volt rechargeable electric sedan. Unlike Ford’s Transit Connect, the Volt is geared toward non-commercial use and has a traditional, internal combustion engine that will kick in after about 40 miles of driving on battery power. GM claims its Volt will deliver 230 mpg using this technology.

The Transit Connect will not have an internal combustion engine and, according to Ford officials, mileage will depend on the size of the battery installed. Ford has not released details on the Transit Connect’s driving range per charge or pricing.

Connectivity between Ford’s battery electric vehicles and local utility grids will allow owners of the vehicles to recharge during off-peak times and at times when solar, wind or other renewable energy sources are delivering power to the grid. Ford’s director of sustainable mobility technologies division, Nancy Gioia, says that this will allow consumers to recharge their vehicles during times when electrical rates are at their lowest.

“We’re going to see an evolution of this,” says Gioia. “What we’re doing is developing our capability and looking at this as a core part of our product future.”

Standardization of technical standards will mean that a battery electric car purchased in one part of the country will interface seamlessly with power grids in other regions of the U.S. If the owner moves across the country or travels long distances their vehicle will work in the new locale just as it did in the region where it was originally purchased.

Another aim of the project is to establish a network so that owners can charge their battery electric vehicles at preset times and locations. This could help electric providers in managing their resources more efficiently.

In concert with its partner utility companies, Ford has already racked up 75,000 miles on a fleet of test vehicles.

Shares of Ford Motor Company’s stock rose $0.27 on Tuesday to close 3.7 percent higher.

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