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First 4,400 Volt buyers to get free chargers

The trade-off for a 240-volt, fast-charging station is participation in a government-run usage study.

The Volt can charge from a typical 120-volt home outlet or a 240-volt, fast-charging station.
General Motors

General Motors will offer the first 4,400 buyers of its Chevrolet Volt the option of having a 240-volt charging station installed in their home when the car is released this fall, the company said Thursday.

The Volt is General Motors' upcoming plug-in electric car that promises a range of 40 miles on electricity alone before one is forced to switch to gas for fuel. GM refers to it as an extended-range electric vehicle, or EREV, instead of a hybrid because the gas engine generator is not directly tied to the car's transmission.

The 240-volt charging stations will be free to Volt buyers; the cost will be covered by a grant from the Department of Energy under the Transportation Electrification Initiative funds inside the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In addition, Ecotality or Coulomb Technologies will install the station themselves. With the backing of a federal program and installation from the supplier directly, it may be less of a headache to get local inspectors to understand and sign off on the installation of a 240-volt charging station in a residential garage.

However, the charging station doesn't come without a price. There is a privacy trade-off.

As part of the deal, the Department of Energy will be granted access to monitor the charging stations' use. This is part of a 15,000-car study to determine the habits of electric car owners and how electric cars and high-voltage home-charging stations adopted on a large scale might affect the electrical grid. The data will be used for electrical infrastructure planning, according to General Motors.

Should one fail to buy one of the first 4,400 Volts--or choose not to buy a Volt at all--there are two other options to get a grant-covered, fast-charging station. Ecotality and Coulomb both have charging-station installation programs backed by Department of Energy grants.

Ecotality is sponsoring the EV Project for 2,600 drivers in conjunction with the release of the Nissan Leaf. Ecotality has repeatedly said its stations are built to Society of Automotive Engineers standards for plug-in electric cars and will accommodate any electric cars built to that standard.

Coulomb is sponsoring the ChargePoint America program under which it plans to install 4,600 fast-charging stations for electric vehicles across the U.S. While most will be installed in public places like parking lots and retailers, about 2,000 will be offered for residential homes. Department of Energy grants make up $15 million of the program's total funding.

Of course, it's not required to have a 240-volt charging station in order to charge a Volt. While that is the fastest means of recharging, the Volt will come with an electrical cord that can be plugged into any 120-volt household outlet. However, this means the car will take more than twice as long to charge.

The Volt takes about 4 hours to fully recharge from a 240-volt charging station and 10 hours to fully recharge its battery from a 120-volt outlet, according to GM.