Auto Companies Make Electric Car Chargers Smarter


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What would happen if thousands or millions of electric car drivers went to charge up their cars on the hottest summer day of the year?

As America moves toward rolling more electric cars out onto the road, that’s the problem many automakers, power companies and electric car advocates are now starting to address. Everyone wants to avoid blackouts.

Recently, Ford and Mitsubishi each announced electronic systems that will allow drivers to set conditions on when their cars will charge. Even when they’re left plugged in, they won’t charge unless these conditions are met.

Many electric companies are upgrading their infrastructure to be able to communicate with cars and other devices that pull power from the grid. So for example, a computer on-board the car could start the charging system (or turn on an appliance) only under certain conditions.

The federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 allocates funding for these upgrades.

Ford’s system will take advantage of this system to allow the driver to program when to recharge the vehicle, for how long and at what utility rate. For example, an operator could choose to charge only during off-peak hours when electricity is cheaper, or when the grid is using renewable energy. It will be available in the upcoming battery-electric Transit Connect commercial van, due out in late 2010, and the Ford Focus electric vehicle due in 2012.

Mitsubishi will also reportedly include a charging timer on its small iMiev electric car when it is released here by 2011. Drivers will be able to plug the car in, then program a preset time when the car will start charging. They can also set a time in advance for the heater or air conditioner to turn on. This will slow the drain on the battery from the climate control system.

Such systems are likely to be widespread in upcoming electric cars. They’ll have to be if we want to avoid blackouts and brownouts--and get maximum range from each battery charge.

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