Hummers and tanks for the U.S. Army are just a stepping stone for local electric car-makers REV Technologies.
Jay Giraud is a friendly man in his 30s with messy brown hair, wearing a shirt of orange and purple plaid. I stare blankly when he tells me he’s not in the business of making cars, for we are in a garage on a stretch of Vancouver’s Clark Drive dotted with muffler and body shops. Plus, several cars are in plain view, some missing engines, one up on a lift. Those are just prototypes, he assures me. In the long run, REV Technologies Inc., the company he founded in 2008, is a software maker in the game of energy management.
When Giraud noticed automakers committing to electric cars and governments investing money into solar energy, he thought he could help both technologies work more efficiently. “What’s missing from all this is an intelligent energy-management network that can communicate with the cars and the grid to figure out how to use both in a balanced way,” he says. “Our system doesn’t see vehicles as cars. It looks at vehicles as battery banks that are sometimes attached [to a grid] and sometimes not.”
For starters, REV’s AutoGrid is able to draw small amounts of unused energy from plugged-in vehicles to help a grid operator balance the load of the grid – and that’s particularly important if there are any solar or wind sources connected, whose intermittent energy delivery can be destabilizing. “Sometimes power hits the grid when the grid can’t take it,” he says. “The cars plugged in at the time could funnel off some of that extra energy.”
Giraud also sees other vehicle-to-grid (V2G, in e-car speak) applications, such as enabling electric car owners to sell unused juice back to the grid during periods of peak demand.
But that’s sometime down the line. For now, REV has 11 employees, many of them physicists and software engineers. In the absence of a national smart grid, the work has been admittedly piecemeal: a battery design here, a fleet of four custom electric Ford Escapes there, another two cars heading out to a third microgrid.
Still, Giraud hopes to make REV profitable by 2013. He declines to share revenue details, but says the company’s last three contracts brought in a little more than a million dollars in revenue, when REV was subcontracted by the likes of Honeywell Aerospace and Science Applications International Corp. to deliver its V2G technologies to the U.S. military, which recently committed to transitioning out of fossil fuels. The next request for proposals REV is looking at comes out in January 2012 and calls for a microgrid of 45 civilian vehicles for an air force base in Los Angeles.
Before I leave, I press Giraud about potential ethical dilemmas stemming from helping make military operations more efficient. “The army commercialized the Internet, they commercialized GPS. So we do have to look at the civilian benefits of what they do and be pragmatic about it,” he says. “And if anybody needs to get off oil, it’s the army.”
Still, he tells me he would pull the plug on any combat vehicle requests and adds that military contracts would take a back seat as soon as civilian garages begin to fill up with electric cars.