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DOE lab develops 'smart charging' for electric cars

Pacific Northwest National Labs is looking to license its Smart Charger Controller, which can schedule electric-car charging for the lowest price at off-peak times.

It's a common question when projecting the impact of electric vehicles: can today's creaky power grid handle millions of juice-hungry car batteries?

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on Thursday said it has developed a smart charger controller designed specifically for charging cars at off-peak times to get the lowest price and ease strain on the grid.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.

A raft of plug-in electric cars are scheduled to come out in 2011, which should deliver a jump in fuel efficiency. But if millions of drivers charged their electric cars during peak times, say, at 6 at night, utilities could strain to meet the demand.

The PNNL's Smart Charger Controller, like other smart-charging equipment, allows a car owner to schedule charging at say, 2 a.m., and to restart charging in case of a glitch. In places where there is time-of-day electricity pricing, the charger uses Zigbee wireless networking to get price information and decide on the lowest price for charging.

Using smart charging, a car owner could save $150 a year, said PNNL engineer Michael Kintner-Meyer, in a statement.

Researchers have projected that without smart-charging technology, utilities would need to build more power plants to meet the spike in demand from electric vehicles. GM is preparing smart-charging technology to be part of the Chevy Volt electric car due in showrooms in late 2010.

The PNNL is seeking to license the smart charger with commercial companies, a representative said.