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Ford taps Microsoft Hohm for electric-car charging

Ford to use Microsoft's home energy management software to optimize electric-car charging schedule, starting with the electric Ford Focus next year.

Ford Motor and Microsoft are collaborating on software for consumers to manage how and when to charge electric vehicles.

Executives from both companies at the New York Auto Show on Wednesday announced that drivers of Ford's electric cars will use Microsoft Hohm, a Web-based home energy management application.

The 2011 electric Ford Focus will be the first car to use Hohm, which company executives said will let consumers take advantage of cheaper electricity rates. That will also help utilities manage the added load of electric vehicles which can be substantial if many people in a neighborhood charge up at once.

"Ford and Microsoft both believe that electric vehicles will be the driving force around how people think about energy usage and energy conservation," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who spoke at the press conference via a video link. "Managing energy in a smart way down to everyday consumers is absolutely going to be critical."

Ford will use software from Microsoft to let people manage electric-car charging along with other electricity consumers in a home. Microsoft

Consumers will be able to access the Hohm application from multiple screens, such as a PC, smartphone, or the car's display. With information on a car's energy consumption, people will be able to optimize charging, which will make the transition to electric vehicles easier, executives said.

For example, a person can input driving patterns and get a recommendation on the best time to charge a car and ensure that it's fully charged when needed. Ford and Microsoft plan to make a smartphone application that will let people view a car charge and to remotely control charging, executives said.

"Customers are going to have to start planning in a way that they have never done before (with gasoline cars): When should I charge? Where is there a charging station? What's the rate--is this a good time?" said Nancy Gioa, director of Ford global electrification.

Hohm will share information with vehicles using Ford's in-car networking connections and in-car software system, which will allow for different applications from Microsoft, Ford, or other companies, executives said.

Ford executives envision that eventually Hohm can connect drivers with energy-related events in the home. For example, the Sync voice system in Ford cars can tell a driver that a clothes dryer is running during peak times and give people the option to schedule the job at a different time.

The application will also allow people to decide whether a home has the appropriate wiring for an electric vehicle or, potentially, to let people choose renewable-energy sources.

Heavy load
As part of its fuel efficiency strategy, Ford plans to release an electric utility van later this year, followed by the electric Ford Focus next year, and then a plug-in hybrid in 2012.

Although plug-in cars from Ford and other automakers aimed at mainstream drivers are still not on the road, there is concern over how these vehicles will affect the grid. Adding just three or five electric vehicles could strain a local power grid circuit, according to utility executives.

At an individual level, adding an electric vehicle could double a home's electricity consumption and be the largest consumer, said Ford CEO Alan Mulally.

"The customer in the home, the vehicle, and the electricity grid will be more interdependent than ever before. We need to work with utilities and municipalities--they provide data for customers to make smart decisions," said Derrick Kuzak, vice president of global product development.

Utilities, too, will be interested in electricity information from electric-car owners, which Microsoft could provide. "The information will flow two ways. Usage patterns are going to be critical to ensure we have a sustainable energy grid," said Marja Koopmans, general manager for marketing of Microsoft's start-up business group which includes Hohm.

A demo model of the all-electric Ford Focus which is due in 2011. Martin LaMonica/CNET

Right now, Microsoft's Hohm, which the company introduced last year, lets people track utility bills and get recommendations on how to lower home energy use after filling out a detailed questionnaire.

The deal with Ford to use Hohm for car charging opens the application up to a potentially large audience. Hohm will first appear on Ford vehicles but the company plans to pursue deals with other companies, Koopmans said.