Network of Web-savvy EV-charging stations on tap

Coulomb Technologies readies ChargePoint America, a program to install 4,600 electric-vehicle charging stations, findable by smartphone app, in locales across the U.S.

Coulomb Technologies on Wednesday said it will build 4,600 electric-vehicle charging stations in nine regions of the U.S., funded by $37 million in grants.

More than half of the charging stations in the program, called ChargePoint America, will go in public locales, such as overnight parking spaces, offices, or retail centers. About 2,000 are going into people's homes as part of the purchase of an electric vehicle.

The Coulomb EV-charging system lets a driver find available charging stations via the Web. Screen capture by Martin LaMonicaCNET

The goal of the ChargePoint network and others like it is to make electric vehicles more accessible to consumers, as these cars come to market in the coming months, said Richard Lowenthal, the CEO of Campbell, Calif.-based Coulomb during a press conference.

The program differs from other electric-vehicle charging networks in that Coulomb is working with Ford Motor, General Motors, and Smart USA on the rollout, Lowenthal said. Ford will release an electric Transit Connect utility van and electric Ford Focus sedan in 2011, GM plans to release the Volt by November, and the electric Smart Fortwo will begin pilot testing in the U.S. by 2011.

The stations themselves will be equipped with 220-volt service at either 16 or 30 amps, which enables faster charging than regular home electrical service. Lowenthal said that an electric car with a large battery could charge from empty in under four hours. Although each car will be different, plugging an electric vehicle in for an hour is equivalent to adding about 25 miles, he said.

Drivers will be able to find available charging stations using either an iPhone or Blackberry application, which can also send alerts if a car battery is running low or if a connected car is unplugged.

The system includes software for station owners to set billing rates. Regions are considering cheaper off-peak rates to encourage drivers to charge overnight. Utilities can see available energy electric vehicles or run demand-response programs to slow charging rates during peak times if needed.

"Our stations are unique in that they are all networked. That allows them to support a bunch of software applications which are important to different constituents," Lownenthal said, adding that installation will begin immediately and continue for 18 months.

The nine regions: the Bellevue and Redmond, Wash., area; Sacramento, Calif.; the San Francisco and San Jose, Calif. area; Los Angeles; Orlando, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Austin, Texas; and Detroit.

Of the total in grants, $15 million will come from the Department of Energy as part of the stimulus act and another $22 million will come from other sources, Lowenthal said. As part of project, Coulomb will gather data on driver usage patterns and report it to the Department of Energy until October 2013.

 

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