A neighborhood in Austin , Texas, designed to be a test bed for green technologies and that, according to General Motors, boasts the highest concentration of electric cars in the U.S. will become a laboratory for how the vehicles and their drivers interact with a smart power grid, homes and renewable energy systems.
General Motors  has initially made 100 of its plug-in electric hybrid Chevrolet Volts available for purchase by the 1,000 residents of the Mueller development and more than half have been sold so far, according to a company representative.
GM and its OnStar subsidiary on Tuesday announced a collaboration with an R&D organization called Pecan Street  that is managing various sustainability initiatives in the Mueller neighborhood, which was built on the site of a closed municipal airport.
Members of the Pecan Street consortia include the University of Texas, utility Austin Energy , Austin Technology Incubator, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Environmental Defense Fund.
OnStar started out in 1996 as a wireless service for Cadillac owners that provided driving directions and emergency assistance but is now morphing into an interface between electric cars and the grid. As part of the alliance with Pecan Street, OnStar will make its smart grid interface available so researchers can develop new services and gather data on driver and vehicle behavior.
“We hope Pecan Street’s research will speed up the innovation cycle around smart grid and consumer electronic technology,” Brewster McCracken,” Pecan Street’s executive director, said in statement. “Electric vehicles represent a significant addition to home’s energy profile and understanding that impact and how consumers use and charge their vehicles is critically important.”
OnStar will allow researchers to develop services such as demand-response that would allow drivers that sign up to let the utility control when their Volt is charged to minimize the impact on the grid in exchange for receiving a lower electricity rate or other incentives. If a utility offers variable electricity rates, OnStar can notify drivers by e-mail and tell the Volt to begin charging its battery when prices are cheaper.
Pecan Street researchers can also use OnStar to control charging of all the Volts in the Mueller neighborhood. Called “aggregated services,” this would allow a utility to balance demand on the grid as well as activate charging when renewable energy is flowing into the grid from wind farms or solar arrays. About a third of Mueller homes have rooftop solar systems.
“We are moving our lab demonstrations into the real world,” Nick Pudar, OnStar’s vice president for strategy and business development, said in a statement. “We’re gathering information from families’ vehicles throughout this community to find out the direct impact the Volt has on the grid and how to get drivers the lowest-possible charging rates. This project will also help us develop future capabilities of the Volt and other plug-in electric vehicles.”
July 25, 2012