The smart grid is coming to a driveway near you.
Ford and Microsoft announced on Wednesday that they are partnering on a web application that will help drivers monitor and manage recharging for their electric vehicles.
"Ford and Microsoft both share a strong commitment to contributing to a better world. Today, we begin the next major step in our working together and leading the way for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability," Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in prepared remarks. "For Ford, this is a needed step in the development of the infrastructure that will make electric vehicles viable."
The software will be powered by Microsoft's Hohm energy management application and be used for Ford's electric vehicles, such as the Focus Electric that's due next year.
The webware will help owners "determine when and how to most efficiently and affordably recharge battery electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles" -- with the added benefit of helping utility companies manage demand.
The Internet-based service reveals energy usage patterns, suggests recommendations to increase savings, and determines the best (read: most cost-efficient) time to charge the vehicle.
This is the first big step by automakers to address a lacking electric infrastructure in the United States. According to a recent Accenture survey, 42 percent of consumers said they are likely to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle in the next two years.
For Ford, the hope is that building such an infrastructure will help it sell more electric vehicles.
For Microsoft, the hope is to gain crucial early ground in the ever-smarter automotive ecosystem.
The hurdle: all those electric vehicles will be a significant draw on the nation's power grid, and have the potential to double a household's energy consumption.
If Microsoft and Ford can figure out a way to educate drivers on how electric cars affect their bottom line, as well as help utilities smooth out usage spikes, they'll be a head above the competition.
Hohm is the latest step in Ford's aggressive global electrification plan, which plans to get five new electrified vehicles on the road in North America and Europe by 2013.
More green vehicles on the horizon: Ford Fusion Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid, Mercury Milan Hybrid, Mercury Mariner Hybrid and the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.
Ford and Microsoft most recently partnered on the Ford Sync communications system, built on Microsoft's Windows Embedded automotive platform.
"Rechargeable vehicles represent a new frontier," Mulally said. "Their commercialization will take broad-based collaboration and systems solutions."
Image, top: Microsoft Hohm & Ford/Flickr
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com