BMW i ChargeForward Program Pays People Not To Charge


If somebody paid you $1,000 to unplug your BMW i3 electric car, would you? That’s the gist of the BMW i ChargeForward pilot program, which is asking 100 San Francisco i3 owners to let the local utility determine when their EV can be recharged, lessening grid demand while providing up to 100 kWh of stored energy capacity at any given time.

By signing onto the BMW i ChargeForward program, i3 owners basically turn over their charging privileges to the automaker, which along with PG&E will manage the charging status of the electric car. Owners will receive a text message telling them their cars will be “unplugged”, though there will be an opt-out option should the driver actually need his vehicle that day. The charging stoppage will never last longer than an hour though, and the idea is that one day utilities could manage an entire grid of plug-in vehicles to ensure it isn’t overloaded. For their participation, BMW i3 owners will be given $1,000 initially, and an additional $540 at the conclusion of the program in December 2016. Ford has undertaken a similar program, minus the financial incentive though.

Beyond regulating grid demand though, the pilot program will also give PG&E additional grid storage capacity, in this case an extra 100 kWh at any given time. While that’s a comparatively tiny amount of energy compared to what the utility doles out in any given day, if you think on a larger scale where say half the population of San Francisco owners plug-in cars, and suddenly you’ve got hundreds of gigawatt hours of potential storage space for solar, wind, and other sustainable energy sources. PG&E can then draw that energy from the EV battery banks as-needed, which goes hand in hand with BMW’s other project, a “second life” battery system made of former MINI-E batteries.

The 200 kWh storage system at BMW’s Mountain View headquarters in California is one of the largest second-life systems in the world, and is powered solely by solar panels. When these batteries reached about 70% capacity after a few years of driving, they were taken out of service and given this “second-life” as grid storage. By reusing old batteries, electric cars should actually end up with better resale values in the long run than their conventional competitors, as even a mostly-depleted battery pack is still worth thousands of dollars on top of the value of the EV itself. BMW is also launching its own line of home chargers and a fast-charging network across the nation to further support its plug-in car initiatives.

Would you turn over the charging of your electric car to your local utility if it put an extra $1,500 in your pocket? Or are you too much of a control freak (like me) to let some faceless corporation tell you when you can and can’t charge your car?

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.