Ford Adds to EV Charging Patents Despite Demand Drop

Ford wants to charge EVs when renewables are ripe, according to its latest patent.

Photo of a Ford patent
Photo via U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

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Despite the dip in the EV market, Ford wants to be prepared to charge. 

The automaker filed a patent application for prioritizing vehicle charging from “renewable or low carbon emission sources.” This essentially aims to reduce both stress on the electrical grid and carbon emissions caused by excess charging demand. 

Though EV owners may want to charge their cars in “ways that are as environmentally friendly as possible … electrified vehicle owners have traditionally not been able to accurately quantify and minimize carbon emissions when charging their vehicles,” Ford said in the filing. 

Ford’s system would run charging based on what it calls an “eco charging schedule,” which would identify times when renewable and low-carbon energy sources are abundant enough that they exceed a specific threshold. 

Ford’s cars may use “in-vehicle connectivity” — such as Bluetooth, WiFi, or in-vehicle data availability — to connect to a “grid data server” and get real-time information about the status of the energy available on the grid, and prioritize charging during those times. Along with electricity demand, it may also consider weather data, especially in the face of an extreme weather event like a storm or heat wave. 

This tech may also track how much carbon dioxide the electrical grid is emitting in real-time, and consider that when planning when to charge, aiming for emissions to get below a certain threshold before allowing a vehicle to charge.

What’s more, Ford proposes a way for its vehicles to give back using bidirectional charging. For example, if a vehicle is plugged into a charger at a house that is using a lot of power (and thereby emitting more carbon), it can give power back “in a manner that minimizes the impact to the environment.” Or if the power goes out entirely, the vehicle can basically serve as a backup generator. 

Ford has filed a multitude of applications for charging tech, including a way to balance scheduling and demand, a bidirectional power-sharing system, and a charging reservation interface

But despite the company’s commitment to grabbing up electric vehicle IP, it’s started to temper its sales expectation as consumer demand has dropped pace. The company announced last week that it would delay production of new all-electric SUVs and pickup trucks, focusing instead on offering hybrids. 

“The rationale seems to be that hybrids can offer many of the benefits of electric vehicles (e.g., improved fuel efficiency) without some of the current challenges around EV charging infrastructure,” Pedro Palandrani, VP and director of research at Global X ETFs. By investing in hybrids, Ford may be seeking to “gradually ease consumers” into fully electric vehicles down the road, he noted. 

Increasing consumer interest in the long run may be a matter of lowering prices, Palandrani said. Ford seems to realize this, too, having cut the cost of its 2023 Mach-E below $40,000 for the first time in February. 

Even though EV demand has taken a hit, investing in charging infrastructure sooner rather than later could be in Ford’s best interest, said Matt McCaffree, VP of Utility Market Development for EV charging service FLASH. Tech like this will allow the automaker to be prepared to meet demand when it eventually does rebound, he noted.

But Ford may also be preparing charging solutions before utility providers are ready for them, McCaffree noted. This patent in particular would require utilities to relay in-depth information about the state of available power on the grid, but those providers are “light years away from providing that kind of signal,” McCaffree said. 

“We are multiple technological steps away from this happening,” said McCaffree. “I see a lot of innovation happening in the near-term going after things like peak load management, controlling demand of charging, or looking at peak hours of the day … which don’t require real-time signals like what’s being proposed in this patent.”