SAN JOSE, Calif. Electric vehicle maker Zap (Santa Rosa, Calif.) has licensed technology from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to build user-programmable EV chargers. Zap plans to use the technology in future vehicles and chargers for the U.S. and Asian markets.
The news comes at a time when a growing list of small and large car makers are gearing up to release EVs including the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and new models from BMW, Volkswagen and others. Nissan alone hopes to sell 150,000 of its all-electric Leaf cars in 2011.
A rush is on to develop and deploy low cost home and public chargers for the cars before they hit the road. A coalition supporting the Leaf, for example, aims to install a network of public charging stations in select western U.S. states before the vehicle is launched later this year.
The global market for electric vehicle charging equipment could rise to $1.9 billion a year by 2015, according to a recent report by Pike Research. China is expected to command the lead in charging station installations with 47.8 percent of annual sales, the market watcher predicted.
A University of California, Berkeley study says as much as $320 billion will be spent on charging infrastructure over the next couple of decades. Some analysts predict that California alone will need as many as 100,000 charge stations over the next three years.
The Zap deal represents an effort from a relatively small player to control its own destiny and deliver a value-added product. A PNNL engineer claims the lab's technology is unique in the level of control it gives a consumer linking his car to smart grid services.
The PNNL technology is essentially a box that links over Zigbee to a smart electric meter and to the car via a CAN network for built-in modules. It can also link chargers and cars via an external interface.
The module can link to a smart electric grid, reading signals from the utility about the variable pricing of power. It schedules charging activity based on user preferences about the time and cost of charging.
The technology puts a spotlight on the still nascent status of the services and standards needed to link EVs to smart grids. For example, utilities generally do not yet provide real-time signaling about the variable electric rates based on time of use. In addition, engineers are still developing standards for charger and EV interfaces.
"There's value in managing the load [to and from EVs] but it needs to be done in a standardized way," said Michael Kintner-Meyer, a chief engineer at PNNL specializing in EVs. The chargers and standards represent pieces of an ecosystem key to the success of EVs which "require more support than a flashy vehicle in a showroom," he said.