As the number of electric vehicles on the road grows, it presents some interesting opportunities and challenges for utilities as well as companies trying to build charging infrastructure. A plug charging your vehicle seems simple enough, but the increased demand on the grid could wreak havoc if everyone plugs in when they get home from work every day, a time of day that incidentally aligns with peak electricity demand. 

As time-of-use rates are implemented across the country, it also might not make financial sense to be charging a vehicle at 6 p.m. if you don't need it until 7 a.m. the next day. Nighttime rates may be lower, so for customers, a smart-charging solution would be valuable if it easily integrates into their lifestyle. This week, AeroVironment (AVAV -0.95%) took a step in that direction with a partnership with eMotorWerks

Aerovironment charger next to smartphone showing the app that controls charging.

Image source: Aerovironment.

Smart charging for EVs

The agreement between AeroVironment and eMotorWerks will offer customers the ability to get cloud-connected charging, which will decide when it's most efficient to charge one or more vehicles. And there's a green charging option for renewables, so customers can drive without using fossil fuels. 

The main platform AeroVironment will use is called JuiceNet, which decides when the EV will be charged based on how much charge is needed and by when. So a customer will be able to set the charger to have their EV ready to go for work in the morning and all of the work of figuring out when to charge for greatest efficiency will be done in the background. 

For eMotorWerks, Aerovironment is an access point to potentially millions of EVs in the future. The company has partnerships with eight global automakers, and as they introduce new EVs in coming years, Aerovironment's charger network will grow by leaps and bounds. 

Aggregating demand is the next innovation for utilities

What's exciting from the utility side is that JuiceNet can integrate with the utility's resources and offer demand response. When electricity usage, and therefore rates, are high, the utility could tell JuiceNet to reduce EV charging, and vice versa. This is demand response -- but Aerovironment and JuiceNet would be offering the utility an aggregated demand of hundreds or thousands of vehicles, which could have a significant impact on the grid. 

Becoming an early mover in this space will be key for both companies. Tesla (TSLA 2.92%) will let customers schedule charging, and with its experience in energy storage, I think aggregation of EVs on its network is only a matter of time. But if the Aerovironment network is big enough, it could outpace Tesla's, creating a valuable position in the market. 

How will the smart charging business play out? 

I think this kind of smart device aggregation is just the beginning, and soon solar power, energy storage, EVs, and other devices in the home will all be tied together and used more efficiently. Today the smart home still consists of disparate devices like thermostats, solar panels, batteries, and maybe a few smart devices, but companies are starting to think about home energy needs more holistically. A holistic solution that maximizes value for consumers and offers easy operations has yet to emerge. But it's on the horizon, and Aerovironment and eMotorWerks just made a big play to be part of that smart energy future.