BMW has announced it is expanding its ChargeForward incentive program to drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles living in the contiguous United States. The proclamation coincides with the launch of the brand’s all-electric i5 and is supposed to incentivize customers into “aligning their vehicle charging with times when renewable energy is highest on the grid.”
That’s progressive-corporate speak for charging vehicles when the demand for electricity is lower to ensure less energy is wasted. One of the biggest obstacles presented by EVs is that widespread usage would result in explosive energy demand many electrical grids may not be able to accommodate. BMW believes this can be mitigated with ChargeForward by ensuring user charging times are carefully monitored and scheduled.
While the program was already available in select states, BMW is now offering enrollment in the lower 48 states on any plug-in model from the 2018 model year and onward. Those vehicles come with the required hardware that provides access to the relevant regional electrical grid carbon data that allow ChargeForward to recommend ideal times to recharge.
The above also means enrollment can be done entirely online without a dealership needing to install anything to your vehicle and the company has said that ChargeForward will be a completely free service. There’s also an incentive scheme that rewards users for running with the concept. BMW customers can either receive “cash incentives by completing up to ten smart charges per month” or take advantage of “Quarterly Carbon Dividend incentives” that are paid out “based on total customer participation and total carbon reductions.”
“The national expansion of BMW ChargeForward is yet another step in our endeavor to provide customers with the best possible charging experience,” said Thomas Ruemenapp, Vice President, Engineering, BMW of North America, LLC. “Empowering our drivers to play an active role in reducing carbon emissions and increasing their renewable energy usage is an innovative way to use vehicle charging to further the environmental benefits of electric vehicles.”
Empowering needs to be the operative word because people are getting a little tired of smart devices and ChargeForward seems to exist at least partially within that sphere.
Smart devices have started to get a bad reputation in recent years. While just about all of them offer conveniences and remote connectivity features beyond our ancestors’ wildest dreams, the person buying them often cedes a staggering amount of control. We’ve seen isolated reports of smart thermostats being taken over by power companies, smart home devices getting caught recording people’s conversations, and all manner of units being stuck in endless update loops that effectively make them nonfunctional. Smart devices without a manual fallback option are also wholly dependent upon internet connectivity, which creates novel problems whenever your service provider fails to deliver.
While most connectivity issues likely won’t result in people living out an episode of Black Mirror, all connectivity issues are indeed issues for smart devices. Plenty of home EV chargers will not function properly without being connected to the internet, especially if they come with some incentive to have customers charge during off-peak hours.
BMW’s ChargeForward uses the vehicle’s embedded connectivity, so your router going down shouldn’t make a difference here. However, the vehicle will still need to be able to connect for everything to work. Someone who parks their vehicle underground, lives way out in the wilderness, or charges anywhere else where wireless connectivity might have trouble reaching the vehicle probably won’t get much out of ChargeForward.
Users will also need to manage charging via the ChargeForward or My BMW apps. Need your vehicle to charge right away? That’s an extra step. Want to take advantage of those incentives? You have to set up your ChargeForward account and have enrolled in the ChargeForward Carbon Dividend program. Then you need to sort out which vehicle is enrolled in your digital garage and give it a dedicated departure time. This requires you to have also selected your home location and ensure that the vehicle is charging only there. If it’s an all-electric vehicle, rather than a plug-in hybrid, the car has to have a charge state greater than 12 percent before you plug in.
Listen, if you’re the kind of person with a fixed schedule who micromanages every single thing in their periphery, then this probably seems like the greatest thing in the world. But these are things the average person isn’t even going to want to bother setting up once, let alone monitor on their phone whenever their driving schedule needs to change.
When everything is working well, however, BMW says the system takes care of itself. Once drivers are enrolled in the program, ChargeForward will determine a schedule for them based on their target state of charge, selected departure time, carbon grid information, and information from local utilities (assuming you’ve enrolled in the applicable programs).
The automaker said it’s working with UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center to fine tune ChargeForward with an emphasis on evaluating overall effectiveness while quantifying carbon reduction. It’s also partnered with WattTime to determine energy use in various locations across the country. As the times ChargeForward sees as ideal for certain users will be constantly changing, BMW has also joined forces with loads of energy companies — including PG&E in Northern/Central California; Duke Energy in Charlotte, North Carolina; DTE in Detroit, Michigan; Xcel Energy in Colorado; and SMUD in Sacramento, California.
BMW has likewise partnered with Honda and Ford on ChargeScape, which is basically a quest to broaden all of the above by leveraging vehicle connectivity and partnering with local energy providers.
There are certainly some good ideas here. Managing the electrical grid has always been ticky and using vehicle data will make regional energy needs easier to anticipate. But we’ve seen some underhanded corporate shenanigans and a lack of support for these kinds of services in the past. BMW is offering a service that may be a blessing to some and a headache for others. This is reflected in reviews of the app, which are dotted with complaints about sporadic and hard-to-understand incentives, bugs, confusion about how to tailor departure times, or claims that the app changed the charging schedule without their knowledge. But there are nearly as many people praising the program and willing to believe they’ve done their part to help mitigate environmental harm.
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