Adam Langton Discusses BMW’s ChargeForward Program

As the world continues to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the BMW Group is taking the lead by investing in the future of mobility through programs like ChargeForward.  The ChargeForward program is helping drivers cut their carbon emissions by switching from gasoline to electricity while also accelerating the adoption of renewable energy. We recently spoke with Adam Langton, Energy Services Manager, and ChargeForward Program Lead, at the BMW Group to learn more about this innovative technology. 

Check out his full interview below!

Q: Tell us about your background, your role at BMW, and your overall responsibilities?  

A: Currently, I develop and commercialize energy and data products related to BMW’s electric vehicles. My main role is to lead the development and implementation of the ChargeForward project, but I also develop other energy and data products that both generate revenue and help BMW achieve sustainability outcomes. I have been with BMW since 2015, and I am based at BMW’s Mountain View Technology office in Mountain View, California.

Q: In your own words, how would you describe the ChargeForward Program? What do you feel is the most innovative aspect of the program?  

A: ChargeForward has two key innovative features: the use of telematics to manage charging directly through the vehicle and the use of utility renewable energy data to optimize vehicle charging.  

Telematics: BMW is the first OEM to use the vehicle telematics system to communicate charging messages directly to the vehicle. This method means that we can smart charge the vehicle wherever it charges – at home, at work, or on the go. We use the BMW ConnectedDrive communication system in the vehicle, so there is no need to modify the vehicle or install new hardware at your home/work. As all BMW electric vehicles can access the ConnectedDrive network, any BMW electric vehicle can participate, making it easy to share this technology throughout California and beyond. 

Utility renewable energy data: The ChargeForward pilot was the first time that an automaker partnered with a utility to share renewable energy data and use this as a basis for vehicle charging optimizations. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the utility for the San Francisco Bay Area and most of Northern California, provided BMW with an hourly forecast of renewable energy generation. BMW used this forecast to time the charging to the utilities’ expected renewable generation. The use of this forecast meant that BMW could adjust the timing of vehicle charging specifically to the renewable energy conditions unique to each hour of the day in Northern California. When scaled, this functionality can make it possible for utilities to add more renewable energy to the grid in the long-term, as it gives them greater confidence that demand for that electricity to be available despite the variability in weather conditions. 

Q: As the project manager of ChargeForward, what led the inspiration behind pioneering the program at BMW?  

A: The inspiration behind the project was to see how we could expand the BMW sustainability benefits beyond the vehicle itself, to include the way it is used. The i-Brand was built from the ground up with sustainability as a core design principle. This is reflected in the sustainable materials used in the vehicle and the efficient manufacturing process to reduce energy and water consumption used to manufacturing our electric vehicles. ChargeForward takes this sustainability concept and empowers drivers to take simple actions to consume more renewable energy and reduce their carbon footprint.  

ChargeForward joins together two of the key technologies in the fight against climate change – electric vehicles and renewable energy – and helps make both of these tools more effective. Creating a ‘win-win’ opportunity for the automotive and the electricity sector is needed to help both sectors manage the significant transformational challenges required to meet the challenge of climate change. 

Q: In terms of partnerships, can you tell us more about how your collaboration with both UC Berkeley and PG&E helped play a role in the development of the program? What kind of partners could you envision contributing in the future?

A: UC Berkeley served as the research partner for the ChargeForward project. Specifically, we worked with the Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC). The TSRC was an ideal fit for us because they are focused on understanding how sustainability outcomes can better be achieved in the transportation sector. The TSRC provided a team of researchers that helped analyze our results and evaluate the impact of each of the studies included within the larger project. TSRC used the data we collected in the project to develop a model which served as a basis for understanding how charging behavior and renewable energy outcomes could be improved under different future circumstances. For example, TSRC modeled a scenario where all drivers charged their vehicles at work during the day, which helped us understand the potential to absorb solar energy during times when it is plentiful on the grid. 

The partnership with PG&E provided us with expertise in how to design studies and tests that would be relevant to the grid. The most important aspect of this partnership was PG&E’s willingness to be a pioneer in sharing renewable energy data with us to use in optimizing charging. This data helped us measure our use of renewable energy and also served as a new communication tool with customers – for the first time, EV drivers could measure the renewable energy content of their charging. 

In the future, we envision partnering with more utilities so that we can expand ChargeForward to other parts of the US. 

Q: How does smart charging reduce carbon emissions and promote the use of renewable energy?  

A: Smart charging reduces carbon emissions and promotes the use of renewable energy by shifting the time of charging to align with the best opportunities to charge on the grid. Unlike traditional fossil fuel energy, renewable energy cannot be controlled. Solar energy is available during the day when the skies are clear and wind energy is available during windy times of day. The conditions that support renewable energy can change every hour, making it hard to predict the best times to charge your vehicle. When our drivers use smart charging, they are giving us the control of their charging so that we can start and stop charging to align with the dynamic conditions on the grid. Our drivers provide their departure time and then allow us to manage the charging for them, so they can maximize renewable energy without having to think about it. Our drivers can ‘opt out’ of smart charging if their plans change and they need to start charging immediately to get a full battery. At any time during smart charging, our drivers can click a button in the app which will direct the vehicle to fill up the battery as quickly as possible. 

Q: As we look towards the future, what kind of advancements do you expect with smart charging technology? Which potential solutions will these innovations bring to current urban mobility challenges?  

A: In the future, we expect that smart charging will grow in value as vehicle battery sizes get larger and vehicle-to-grid technology matures. Larger battery sizes will mean that drivers will have even more flexibility in when they charge their vehicles. With a larger battery size, drivers will be less dependent on charging every day to meet their range needs, but instead can optimize their charging over the course of multiple days – providing more opportunities to capture renewable energy. A sophisticated system to coordinate charging between vehicles and renewable energy will give utilities greater flexibility to add renewables to the grid without having to fear the impacts of grid imbalances. 

‘Vehicle-to-grid’ functionality also has the potential to greatly expand the benefits of smart charging. While smart charging allows charging to be shifted to different times of day, ‘vehicle-to-grid’ or V2G allows the battery to discharge to the grid, allowing the vehicle to absorb excess renewable energy and discharge that energy during times when demand for electricity is high. For urban dwellers, this kind of functionality not only helps to support renewables on the grid but could also serve as a backup power source during outages or during emergencies. 

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