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IBM brings smart charging to Honda Fit EVs

Using the Fit's telematics system, IBM demo project will gather data and set schedules for plug-in vehicles to show that the grid can handle millions of electric vehicles.

The 2013 Honda Fit EV plans will lease the all-electric car for $399 a month. Josh Miller/CNET

To a computer company like IBM, plug-in electric vehicles just look like more nodes on the network.

IBM tomorrow is expected to announce a demonstration project with Honda and California utility Pacific Gas & Electric to charge a fleet of Honda Fit EVs without disrupting the grid.

The smart-charging project will also test smartphone and Web-based apps for consumers, giving them an estimate of charge time and location of charging stations.

The power grid as a whole has the capacity to accommodate millions of plug-in vehicles, say experts. But if there's a concentration of electric cars charging at once, it could strain the local distribution grid. Utility executives say that having even just four or five electric cars in the same neighborhood could cause stability problems.

The IBM smart-charging system will be able to monitor a car's battery charge state along with the grid load and optimize the car's charge rate. If the grid is getting overloaded on a hot summer day, for example, the system could change the charging schedule. Consumers could indicate they'd want their car fully charged by, say, 6 a.m. and take advantage of off-peak rates.

IBM will use the telematics system already in the Honda Fit EV to gather data. The information will also be analyzed for charging patterns for the regional grid, IBM said.