Microsoft and Ford will partner on making the automaker’s electric cars more energy-efficient, the companies said in a joint announcement March 31. Specifically, the Microsoft Hohm platform will be offered as a cloud-based energy-management tool for owners of Ford’s future electric cars, performing functions such as reporting the most optimal time to plug in a vehicle for recharging.
The announcement took place in Ford’s area at the New York International Auto Show, slated to run in Manhattan’s voluminous Jacob K. Javits Center April 2 to 11. Ford CEO Alan Mulally came onstage to say the partnership with Microsoft was part of an initiative to make its customers’ interactions with the utility grid “more efficient,” especially considering the potential drain that thousands of new electrical cars could put on the system. Ford plans on using Hohm for electric vehicles starting sometime in 2011.
Mulally said Ford intended to “electrify our platforms” over the next few years, with five new hybrid vehicles due on the market by 2012. He then unveiled the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, which will use the Microsoft-designed SmartGauge with EcoGuide to give drivers long-term data on their fuel efficiency. Mulally claimed the vehicle, which will debut later in the year, is 50 percent more efficient than comparably sized luxury vehicles.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer then appeared on a giant screen, via video link from Redmond, Wash., to talk about the partnership. After saying Hohm “allows customers to better understand energy usage” and save an “average of 10 percent” on their utility bills, Ballmer went on to say that the partnership would ultimately benefit two groups: utility companies, which could use data from Hohm to “better understand and manage” the energy demands from electric cars on the grid, and customers, who could use the software to determine how, when and where to best charge their vehicles.
Hohm takes user input about energy choices and makes recommendations about how to adjust energy expenditures to save money. Hohm’s analytics for performing its calculations are licensed from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Department of Energy. An electric vehicle has the potential to become the largest energy-consuming element of a typical household; in that context, were Hohm to recommend habits such as plugging in the car late at night instead of during peak hours, users could save a good deal of money.
Ford is also examining the possibility of a smartphone application that would allow users to remotely view an electric car’s charge status.
Microsoft originally launched Hohm in July 2009, as part of a larger green IT initiative that included the company’s Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Microsoft Dynamics AX, which had been released that February. Code-named Niagara, after the birthplace of modern electricity and one of Nikola Tesla’s experiment sites, the platform aims to assist executives and IT administrators in monitoring energy costs and is designed to run on any Web browser, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. From the beginning, Microsoft made a point of highlighting its partnerships with utility companies to allow their customers’ energy consumption information to be automatically uploaded to Hohm, and four such companies signed on at the outset.
Hohm asks the user for a postal code and e-mail address, and then to fill out a home profile, answering questions such as, “What type of energy does your water heater use?” In return, Hohm offers a home-energy report with energy-savings recommendations (“Lower the temperature setting on your water heater”) alongside an estimated cost breakdown.
Along with Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Microsoft Dynamics AX, Microsoft’s green IT initiatives are directly competitive with Google’s PowerMeter software tool, which measures home energy consumption in near-real time via “smart” metering devices installed by a utility. As part of its own initiative, Google has partnered with power companies in California, Texas, Florida, India, Wisconsin, Missouri and Kentucky, as well as Canada.