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Coulomb car-charging stations coming to Calif.

Smart meters from Silicon Valley company are set to charge electric cars at gas stations along California freeways next year.

Coulomb Technologies is developing networked equipment for charging electric vehicles at the curb.
Coulomb Technologies is developing networked equipment for charging electric vehicles at the curb. Kim Smith/General Motors

Coulomb Technologies has inked deals with service stations throughout California to provide smart equipment for charging electric vehicles in the first quarter of 2009.

Solar panels will power some of Coulomb's networked equipment, which can provide electric cars about a 10-mile driving range after an hour of charging.

The dozens of planned locations include gas stations along Interstates 101, 5, and 99, which snake north to south through much of California's length. A few of the stations will be closer to cities, and some already offer a mix of cleaner fuels, such as hydrogen, biodiesel, and ethanol.

"It's very similar to a gas pump business, where we provide the equipment that allows station to run a business," said Coulomb CEO Richard Lowenthal.

Coulomb sells its technology to service stations, which set the consumer pricing. Although some may offer car charging as a free perk, Lowenthal said he thinks the price per charge should be about half of the equivalent in gasoline.

The Campbell, Calif., company aims to establish hundreds of charging stations by the end of 2009.

It has been readying its technology for a December launch of public stations in San Jose. In tests around Silicon Valley, the company has been working to prevent interference to its wireless communications from sources including UPS delivery trucks pulling up near the car-charging stations, Lowenthal said.

Although financing has dried up with the economic downturn, interest from potential customers is strong thanks to the anticipated releases of the GM Chevy Volt and a plug-in Toyota Prius in the next two years, he added.

Coulomb faces plenty of competition from Better Place and other start-ups building the infrastructure to charge electric cars. Nissan announced a joint effort Thursday to test charging systems with the state of Oregon. Lowenthal said he envisions multiple companies succeeding in the coming years.

"We assume it will be something like cell phones where there are multiple providers and roaming agreements," he said.