Smart Garage – Connecting the future

RMI united experts across several industries for three days in Portland, OR., for a summit meeting to identify the barriers and breakthroughs needed to electrify the U.S. auto fleet, and do it in a “smart” way in order to reap huge environmental benefits, as well as open up a host of profitable business opportunities.

In the broadest assortment of stakeholders yet assembled on this topic, the gathering instigated several key initiatives to bring closer to full realization the "Smart Garage" — a new energy paradigm that allows America’s cars to plug in to homes and buildings, uniting our transport, building and grid energy systems.

The Smart Garage is not a physical garage, rather it’s a metaphor for the place where buildings, the grid, and the vehicle come together. Cars can connect to the grid at the shopping center while you buy groceries, in the parking lot of your office, curb-side down town, or in your own driveway.


“In this time of economic uncertainty, Smart Garage is an important national opportunity to build out a new, green infrastructure in the U.S. Bringing together electrified vehicles, energy-positive buildings, and a smarter and cleaner electricity grid will generate jobs and wealth, while decreasing our dependence on oil and greenhouse gas emissions," said Michael Brylawski.

"The key Smart Garage technologies–batteries, PHEVs, charge stations, communications technologies–are ready. Success depends on aligning a diverse array of companies on the vision, and ultimately engaging customers on the dramatic benefits it can have in their daily lives.”

Participants at the Smart Garage summit in PortlandAttendees included leaders from the utility and auto industries, innovators of clean energy solutions, IT systems providers, consumer products, metering, advanced battery technology and even retailers. Among the companies represented were major auto manufacturers such as Nissan and GM, utilities such as PG&E and Duke Energy, IBM, P&G, WalMart and Google, among many others.

The summit — which focused on system-wide barriers and solutions that leverage collaboration across the value chain — found essential elements of consumer demand, industry preparedness and government leadership are coming together, setting the scene for a great leap forward in the next five years.

"What proved most surprising was the concept of the Smart Garage is a lot closer to realization than we previously thought," said Laura Schewel, a transportation systems expert with MOVE and manager of the Smart Garage project.

"We found there were many misconceptions — including that technology to make all this possible was not available — when in fact the opposite is true," Schewel said.

"There are still definitely some barriers currently preventing the immediate adoption of Smart Garage. To move forward, the group at the summit created several key initiatives, which RMI is driving, to further break down these barriers. Initiatives range from research into advanced batteries and their potential second life options, to convening a group of leading ‘seed’ cities to make themselves a welcoming ‘ecosystem’ for electrified vehicles."


Amory Lovins checks out an Electric Vehicle Charging StationConversation at the summit meeting in Portland concluded that:

* Attainable and valuable first steps in this new energy paradigm revolve around building infrastructure and refining business models for key stakeholders to unleash private investment.
* Consumer demand and private investment will drive the overhaul of the U.S. electrical grid, creating the infrastructure needed such as millions of plug-in charging stations for cars, all the while creating opportunity for profit and consumer benefits.
* Benefits will include opportunities for new businesses and start-ups, job creation, cheaper fuel for drivers, more consumer choice in vehicle ownership, positive impact on the environment, breaking the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, increasing the use of alternative energies, and turning a profit.
* The concept of Smart Garage technology and infrastructure is no longer a futuristic vision. Activities in multiple sectors are already underway — such as the push for a Smart Grid, and thousands of converted plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are already hitting the road.
* In the first wave of convergence between buildings, vehicles, and the grids, cars will charge up in a "smart" way. This means the time of day they charge, how fast they charge, the location and more will be dictated by driver preferences (including electricity bill limits) balanced against utility and building needs. All of the benefits mentioned above are available only when the car is charging up (uni-directional charging). In the longer term, bi-directional charging (often called V2G) can use vehicle batteries as storage, opening up more benefits, though more more costly and technically challenging.
* The event participants converged on the near term vision of a uni-directional Smart Garage, while agreeing that new infrastructure should be V2G-capable where possible to allow for moving to V2G in the future.

What is the Smart Garage?

The Smart Garage is a new energy paradigm focused on the integration of how we use energy. It is made possible by the convergence of energy in the transportation, electricity grid and building sector enabled by plug-in vehicles. It combines key industry endeavors such as smart charging, Vehicle to Grid, V2Building, and the smart grid.

What are the advantages of the Smart Garage?

The vehicle sector is clearly moving towards wholly or partially electric vehicles. Utilities are looking for ways to manage existing volatility, smooth load profiles and increase renewables. Smart Garage offers a way to reap the financial benefits from both industry trends.

Smart Garage bridges the transportation, building and electric power sectors by providing electricity as a low-carbon fuel to vehicles and then using vehicle energy storage for responsive services to the power grid. This optimizes the efficiency of both sectors and enables significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The challenges of creating the Smart Garage

Smart Garage will require deep collaboration between multiple industries to succeed, but so far that collaboration has not happened, and instead, disjointed research and development endeavors continue with little coordination. The lack of a collective vision for the value chain, technical communication, and electronic/data flows associated with Smart Garage has created a bottleneck.

Collaborative and open design can overcome the barriers presented by the complexity of Smart Garage systems. First, with Smart Garage, collaboration and agreement on key principles, earlier stages, and open standards will enable rapid growth without being slowed by incompatible, proprietary hardware and software. Second, developing a clear vision and understanding for the entire system will enable players to recognize impacts and synergies across disciplines.