Director, Smart Mobility Initiatives
1. EV Charging
Electric vehicle charging can help move our nation away from fossil fuels, enable cleaner local air quality and help provide energy resiliency across our grid infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Energy promotes an EV’s ability to reduce pollution and allows individuals to look up an estimate of emissions created when powering their EVs based on the local electricity generation mix. The European Environment Agency found similar results when it investigated life cycle emissions for EVs versus petrol (gasoline) and diesel cars.
Although EVs are not new, much remains to be learned and perfected before they can be widely adopted and their potential fully realized. While some regulated utilities in Michigan have enacted special rate cases to enable EV charging business models, many have not. This means an EV charging station owner could see an expensive demand charge each month, operating at a loss while station utilization is low. Deploying pilots within Michigan’s diverse portfolio of regulated and unregulated electrical investor-owned utilities, municipalities and cooperatives can help stakeholders learn about costs, benefits and policies that could work for everyone. In addition, we are still in the very early stages of bidirectional, in which the vehicle’s battery can be used to power your home (e.g., during a power outage, potentially a clean alternative to home generators), and wireless charging, where a vehicle could simply drive over a charging pad and automatically begin charging (this technology already exists for smartphones). These technologies can address unique challenges and create benefits for the grid and EV owners.
Michigan is the global epicenter of the automotive industry with its academic, manufacturing, supply chain and engineering workforce talent. Michigan can help address the technical and nontechnical challenges ahead for these EV charging technologies. The state’s diverse climate can be leveraged to understand impacts on station performance and maintenance (especially for those with greater power needs). The importance of EV charging infrastructure increases in the winter months, with vehicles requiring more energy per mile traveled and drivers losing range as they heat their cabins. Also, the impacts of weather on bidirectional and wireless charging performance need to be investigated before these technologies can be widely utilized.
2. Building Energy Management and Controls
Building energy management and controls have quietly entered the spotlight during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers have created recommendations that currently prioritize health and safety over energy efficiency within buildings. This means increased operational costs and, likely, lower building occupancy rates during the pandemic. Also, after the pandemic some employers may enact permanent work from home policies and reduce their office space footprint. And there could be long-term impacts as more consumers shop online and have products delivered to their doorsteps.
Some building energy management and controls technologies, such as demand control ventilation that automatically reduces HVAC energy consumption when the building is unoccupied, can help save building owners thousands of dollars in energy costs. NextEnergy has worked with partners to pilot various building energy management solutions and strategies (demand response, advanced lighting, vehicle-to-building, LiTES) and continues to focus on this area. As occupancy rates drop and real estate models adapt to COVID-19, building owners and managers choosing to implement advanced controls will be better positioned to control costs and operate profitably. Piloting building energy management and controls solutions in Michigan will provide access to a temperate climate, a diverse set of building occupants and functions (e.g., manufacturing, warehousing/distribution, retail, office, etc.), a region that has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a growing tech community to support future innovation. Detroit, for example, was rising rapidly before the pandemic hit and could now be an excellent case study for these building energy management and controls technologies.
3. Connected Infrastructure
Connected infrastructure can help bring the vision of connected and autonomous vehicles to reality. While no one can say how long it will be before fully autonomous vehicles are no longer limited to small, well-mapped areas and can travel anywhere, there are many things connected infrastructure can do for cities today. Imagine a connected intersection with cameras that relay information to autonomous vehicles about pedestrians around a corner, necessary information for an autonomous vehicle. However, the same connected intersection technology could help the city optimize light timing, enhance pedestrian safety, and even help optimize sidewalk snow removal and trash removal from public waste cans. Now imagine a city using similar technology to enforce street parking without parking enforcement officials walking around. Cost savings could be redeployed to other activities focused on improving city services and quality of life. These are all examples of what helps create a “smart city”.
NextEnergy has been working with cities and communities in Michigan to understand and characterize their needs. Many are interested in deploying solutions, but like most cities across the country, costs and budgets are an issue. Projects where private industry provides cost share can create near-term opportunities to explore these connected infrastructure solutions, while also creating models for others. Michigan cities and communities are eager to participate. These communities are already identifying needs, engaging with their city staff and elected officials and reaching out to NextEnergy to better understand how to prepare for future deployment opportunities and identify potential solutions providers.
Finally, Michigan offers everything a technology developer could want in a testbed location. The State of Michigan recently announced the first-of-its-kind 40 plus mile connected corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor. In fact, And cities like Auburn Hills have already partnered with private industry to deploy connected infrastructure. More examples can be found by reviewing the past PlanetM Mobility Grant winners.
4. Resilient Power
Resilient power can keep infrastructure and communications operational in the event of a power outage. As we rapidly move into a more digital world with the connected automobile, advanced building controls and smart city solutions, the importance of keeping our infrastructure and communications operating 24/7 increases. The winning technologies for these areas are still in development. Therefore, there is an urgent need for resilient power solutions to keep them operating without interruption.
Michigan’s focus on resilient power can be seen in the Jackson Smart Energy District championed by Consumers Energy, the state’s profile of wind and solar utility investments (including this recent DTE Energy news), interconnections to Midwest transmission companies and other major infrastructure investment announcements from Michigan utilities. Furthermore, a recent event in January 2019 created an energy emergency in Michigan. This prompted the Michigan Public Service Commission to conduct a statewide energy assessment with a focus on power resiliency. Combining this with the state’s focus on connected infrastructure and the future of mobility presents a lot of opportunity for resilient power technology providers in Michigan.
5. AV Testing
With connected infrastructure and resilient power solutions being on this list, it shouldn’t be a surprise that testing autonomous vehicles is also a great opportunity in Michigan. In 2016, former Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation to allow AV testing on Michigan roadways. Current Governor Gretchen Whitmer has continued to push the future of mobility agenda with the above-mentioned connected corridor and creation of the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. Combined with a program funded by PlanetM for testing AVs at various advanced testing facilities across the state, Michigan has a winning formula for companies interested in testing new solutions. And did I mention that the PlanetM program also offers AV testing sites for land, air, and sea (well, technically freshwater)? Michigan is committed to the success of AVs.
Michigan is an ideal location to bring all these advancing technologies together. NextEnergy is highly connected, no pun intended, in these topic areas and ready to work with your company to identify opportunities and deploy pilot and demonstration solutions. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on LinkedIn to learn more about how NextEnergy can help accelerate your product commercialization.