Where’s the Next Power Socket?

Feature Article | October 28, 2010 by Frank Völkel

An electrifying drive, powered by the sun: the LAMPO2 from Swiss company Protoscar (photo: Frank Völkel)

An electrifying drive, powered by the sun: the LAMPO2 from Swiss company Protoscar (photo: Frank Völkel)

A whole industry is gearing up to a big change on the horizon – because redefining the driving experience involves throwing convention to the wind. After all, electric cars are much less autonomous than conventional vehicles with classic combustion engines. At the international trade fair for electric mobility eCarTec 2010, held in Munich, Germany, from October 19 through 21, cars were on display that have an average range of less than 125 miles (see also our article: The Future of Mobility Is Electric).

In other words, they need to be recharged or have their batteries changed much more often than conventional cars need refilling. That’s why new service concepts and billing systems are required (see our article Electricity Meters 2.0), which enable an easy transfer from one energy supplier to another. If electric cars are to be recharged at night, when the power stations are producing surplus power, then the vehicles must be intelligently hooked up to the energy infrastructure. This means that electric cars will resemble mobile computers to a much greater extent than their diesel- or gasoline-driven counterparts.

But it also means that IT – with its data networks and access and billing systems – is set to play a decisive role in the not-too-distant future. Even now, we are seeing more and more IT components and networks installed in conventional cars, so that IT’s share of value-added is steadily on the increase. Manufacturers and international committees are currently examining standardization at a global level. This standardization will involve harmonizing the requirements of the grid, the energy suppliers, the driver, and the vehicle – see our articles Smart Energy Management and Energy on Demand.

And one message was heard loud and clear at eCarTec 2010: We won’t be retrofitting conventional cars to make them electric. There are a few exceptions – such as the smart brand from Daimler – but generally, completely new developments are needed. The area of electric cars requires fundamentally new career paths and qualifications. They involve a combination of state-of-the-art IT, engineering, creativity, and an ability to think out-of-the-box.

Tomorrow we’ll be recharging and hooking up to the IT infrastructure (photo: Frank Völkel)

Tomorrow we’ll be recharging and hooking up to the IT infrastructure (photo: Frank Völkel)

Infineon outlines the smart power supply from power generation to consumer

Infineon outlines the smart power supply from power generation to consumer

Concepts and prototypes: BMW, E.ON, and Mitsubishi

Many companies have only just begun to realize that electric cars and their technical components and IT infrastructure are a huge market with tremendous revenue potential. At the first eCarTec last year, there were 195 exhibitors. This year, there were around 400. Conspicuous by their presence in 2010 were major automotive manufacturers BMW, Mitsubishi, and Peugeot, who had their own booths and – in some cases – their own series-produced models.

And the fact that the future of electric mobility depends greatly on IT component suppliers such as Siemens, Infineon, and ebm-papst was evident in these companies’ concepts and prototypes. All the major German utility companies also attended: E.ON, RWE, Vattenfall, and EnBW.

BMW Concept ActiveE: 100-mile range, 125 kW (photo: Frank Völkel)

BMW Concept ActiveE: 100-mile range, 125 kW (photo: Frank Völkel)

Together with service provider Siemens IT Solutions and Services (SIS), SAP is currently working on a feasibility study for electric cars. More specifically, the two companies are examining how energy consumption can be billed at charging stations, how the data gathered can be transferred, and how drivers can make payments. The feasibility study applies particularly to North America and its results are slated to be published in early 2011.

Trip down memory lane: Electric BMW 2002 from 1969 with lead-acid rechargeable batteries and 32 kW

Trip down memory lane: Electric BMW 2002 from 1969 with lead-acid rechargeable batteries and 32 kW

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