'A big challenge for the grid': BluWave-ai looks to steer EV users away from peak charging times

EV charging

A rising Ottawa cleantech firm that’s testing technology aimed at preventing electric vehicles from overloading power grids is hoping to fast-track its growth with the help of millions of dollars in fresh capital.

BluWave-ai has landed $4.5 million in new funding from a group of Canadian venture capitalists and is close to finalizing an additional $5.5-million raise from a consortium of private and corporate investors, founder and CEO Devashish Paul recently told Techopia.

The cash influx comes as BluWave is gearing up to launch a two-year, $4.8-million pilot project that will see Ottawa Hydro use the cleantech startup’s platform to help steer drivers of electric vehicles toward off-peak charging times in an effort to limit the strain on the utility’s infrastructure.

“If you’re the likes of Hydro Ottawa, how are you going to deal with everybody buying a Hyundai Kona or a Tesla or a Volkswagen ID.4 and everyone comes home from work and starts charging them just as everyone’s turning on their stoves and ovens and all of that?” Paul said, citing several popular EV models. 

“It becomes a big challenge for the grid. Even if 25 per cent of homes get to EV penetration, the whole grid will become congested.”

BluWave’s new subscription-based software system, dubbed EV Everywhere, uses artificial intelligence to track power usage in particular neighbourhoods and predict when owners of electric cars are most likely to charge their vehicles. 

Energy-transfer tech

The cloud-based platform will automatically trigger vehicles to recharge when power usage is typically at its lowest, easing pressure on the grid and saving consumers money. Meanwhile, users who don’t opt in to the software can download an app that will alert them when it’s the most cost-effective time to plug in their rides.  

In addition, BluWave is partnering with B.C.-based startup Moment Energy – which converts old EV batteries into sustainable energy-storage systems – to devise more effective ways of harnessing power in EV batteries and transferring that energy from cars to the grid when demand for electricity is peaking.  

The Ottawa firm will also be teaming up with another local partner, Invest Ottawa, to put the software through its paces at Area X.O, an autonomous vehicle test track on Woodroffe Avenue that’s equipped with EV charging systems and other infrastructure. 

“(EV) manufacturers are taking care of where to put (the energy),” Paul said. “Now, how do you put it there at the right time? That’s what the EV Everywhere project is all about.”

BluWave and Hydro Ottawa are funding half the cost of the project, while the provincially backed Independent Electricity System Operator is covering the rest. Another provincial agency, the Ontario Energy Board, is providing regulatory support.

With the federal government accelerating its drive to dramatically increase the number of electric cars on Canadian roads, Paul believes BluWave is poised for big things ahead. The firm is expecting to nearly double its headcount from 30 to 55 as it ramps up the program over the next couple of years.

While only five per cent of new vehicles sold in Canada today are electric, EV sales jumped 60 per cent in 2021 compared with the previous year, Statistics Canada says. Their share of the new car market is expected to rise steadily over the next few years as the feds roll out more incentives. 

For example, the Liberals recently expanded their rebate program that will pay back up to $5,000 to eligible buyers as they eye a target of EVs making up 20 per cent of all new car sales by 2026. 

More charging stations

The federal government has stated it wants all new vehicles sold in Canada to run on battery power by 2035. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault is now working on a quota system that will penalize dealerships and auto manufacturers that don’t meet those targets.

The feds are also funding more EV charging stations as they push to increase the number of stations across Canada from the current total of 15,000 to more than 50,000.

For utilities like Hydro Ottawa that are grappling with the issue of how to manage the expected surge in demand for electricity that will follow, BluWave’s platform has come along at exactly the right time.

“With BluWave-ai EV Everywhere technology, we will be in a position to more accurately predict EV loads, plan capacity upgrades across our community, and strengthen our system to meet the energy needs of our customers,” Guillaume Paradis, Hydro Ottawa’s chief electricity distribution officer of operations, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, BluWave continues to land more customers such as taxi fleets, airlines and other consumers of electric power. Last fall, Dubai Taxi signed on to use BluWave’s AI technology to help it anticipate demand and ensure that its growing roster of electric cabs is fully charged and ready to go when customers call.

Paul told Techopia last week BluWave is “making progress” on other contracts and hopes to announce a deal with a “major fleet” of EV cabs in the near future.