Info display: An e-mail displayed on an iPhone (center) will tell Nissan Leaf owners when their car is finished charging. Dashboard displays (clockwise from top left) show the car’s driving range and charging stations near the destination; the location of the nearest charging stations; battery charge levels and time to full charge; and an option for preheating or precooling the car before unplugging.
Some startup companies hope to make a business out of providing recharging stations and even battery swaps for rapid “refueling” along highways. But initially, recharging facilities, whether provided by startups, carmakers, or the government, will be relatively scarce. “Telematics will be an important part of helping you find those stations. And telematics will be an important part of accurately predicting that you can make it to your destination without refueling,” says MacKenzie.
Wirelessly transmitted charging information will be less important for GM’s Chevrolet Volt, also due for mass production next year. This car will carry a small gasoline engine for the purpose of recharging the electric battery. The gas option will boost its range from 40 miles in all-electric mode to 300 miles in gas-recharging mode. And this makes the Volt far less dependent on charging stations. Still, GM is using OnStar to monitor the mechanical and battery condition of pre-production Volts. And like the Leaf, production Volts will beam information about their battery’s condition as well as any battery malfunction data to headquarters, and will notify users of charging-station locations.
Eventually, both electric and plug-in hybrid cars will most likely be able to communicate with power utilities, so consumers can charge their cars at off-peak times. By doing this, they could take advantage of lower off-peak electricity prices and avoid stressing the power grid.
The U.S. Department of Energy is now studying the best ways to manage car-charging on the power grid. Also involved with the study are Electric Transportation Engineering of Scottsdale, AZ, and Gridpoint, a smart-grid company based in Arlington, VA.