Perfect timing.

BMW i is testing the future of electric vehicle charging with the new “Charge Forward” service based in sunny California. This promises to make plentiful use of solar energy and keep the public electricity grid stable.                    

Brenda Bodine’s BMW i3 doesn’t mind when it charges. It can wait. As can Brenda herself. What matters to the environmentally conscious Californian is that the e-vehicle in her garage and every one of the electronic devices in her house are powered by green electricity. To avoid load peaks in the public electricity grid, Brenda’s BMW i3 sometimes doesn’t start charging until after she’s asleep, when the overall electricity consumption is low. Early the next morning when Brenda has to drive to work in her BMW i3, the car has long since finished charging.

This is all made possible thanks to the “Charge Forward” pilot project, which BMW i is currently testing in the Bay Area in collaboration with the local energy provider Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). The aim of the project is to use as much solar energy as possible while keeping the public electricity grid stable. “Electric vehicles can make a significant contribution here, not only as a source of storage but also as a flexibility reserve,” says Adam Langton, who manages the project for the BMW Group. This is how it works: using the “Charge Forward” app, Brenda enters the time when she plans to use the BMW i3 next. If there happens to be a high load on the electricity grid while the electric vehicle is parked in the charging station, the grid operator, PG&E, sends a signal to the “BMW i Charge Forward charging control system”. Using a software solution developed by the BMW Group, the charging process is put on hold for a while – until the electricity grid is no longer threatened with overload. This is not a problem for Brenda’s compact e-vehicle, which doesn’t have to charge for the entire parking time in order to refill the batteries. The charging control system also responds flexibly when the weather is sunny and renewable energy is particularly abundant.

For Brenda, these processes are hardly even noticeable. She simply uses the vehicle whenever she needs it. “What’s more, she can be sure that her data isn’t being passed on to third parties,” Langton says. This is because PG&E only sends signals to “pause charging” or “start charging” to the charging control system operated by the BMW Group, which then transmits the commands to the vehicle.

When the BMW Group started looking for test monitors for the pilot project in the Bay Area two years ago, Brenda jumped at the chance. The idea of charging her e-vehicle with clean electricity while contributing to the energy transition appealed to her. Brenda continued to make use of the program, along with around 400 other BMW customers. In 2017, the “Charge Forward” project entered into the second test phase and is now being fine-tuned. “The first market versions for drivers of BMW i, BMW i Performance and MINI Electric Vehicles are already being prepared for series production,” says Joachim Kolling, Head of Energy Services at BMW Group in Munich.