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Summary:

A pilot project for testing plug-in hybrids and smart charging tech that Toyota and EDF have been developing for years is finally ready for a large-scale demo. Starting this month about 100 plug-in versions of Toyota’s Prius will be leased in the area.

A pilot project for testing plug-in hybrid vehicles and smart charging tech that Toyota and French utility EDF have been developing in Strasbourg, France for nearly three years is finally ready for a large-scale demo. This week the companies said they are rolling out about 100 plug-in hybrid vehicles based on the third generation Prius model, and deploying a network of charging stations for three years of testing in the Strasbourg region.

This demo comes as part of a larger project Toyota has undertaken to lease 600 plug-in hybrid Prius vehicles in 2010, including 200 in Europe. Strasbourg’s 100 demo vehicles will represent the highest concentration of Toyota’s plug-ins outside of Japan during this limited lease phase — most of the other demos that Toyota has in the works (in the UK, Germany and other European countries) will have 20 or fewer vehicles, according to a document detailing the project that the partners released this week.

Since late 2007, EDF and Toyota have been testing out three prototype plug-in hybrids in the utility’s fleet, followed by a fourth vehicle the following year. Worldwide, Toyota has rolled out about 20 Prius plug-in hybrids for testing. This next phase of the pilot will involve drivers from both the public and private sector, with the cars being leased to local authorities, government agencies, energy providers, a car sharing network and private companies.

EDF plans to install about 30 charge points curbside along roadways and at public parking sites “near municipal nerve centers” in the Strasbourg metro area. Additional charge points will be installed at company parking lots and homes, and the project organizers say participants will only be allowed to use this official equipment for recharging.

Here’s where the “smart” comes into the charging system. Each of the charge points will be linked over a 3G network to a central control system managed by EDF subsidiary Sodetrel, which will provide real-time updates on the status of a given charging station. The vehicles will be equipped with “data retrieval devices” to collect data on trip duration, the time and frequency of charging, how much the battery has been depleted by the time a driver plugs in, fuel efficiency, and the percentage of driving done on electric mode.

The cars will also have screens, electronic controls, and communication and navigation systems so that when a registered user plugs in at an official charging station, the terminal and vehicle will essentially shake hands, verify safety and credit info and then begin recharging the Prius’ lithium-ion battery. (To learn more about connected cars and electric vehicles come to our Green:Net conference in San Francisco on April 29, where you can hear from speakers from General Motors, Nissan, Ford, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, and NRG Energy.)

The Strasbourg government, as well as a French fund established for demonstrating vehicles with low levels of greenhouse gas emissions, have backed the project. Toyota will lease the cars to participants for a period of 36 months, and provide maintenance through its existing dealerships in the city.

One of the questions that utilities, charging service providers and regulators are still wrestling with in the U.S. is how billing will work. In the EDF-Toyota demo, charging at public stations (i.e. along roadways and at public parking lots) will be provided at no cost to the driver or company leasing the car. When plugging in at home, the individual driver will be charged along with their other electricity costs. And charge points installed at workplaces will leave the business hosting the equipment to foot the bill.

 

For more research on electric vehicles check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Report: IT Opportunities in Electric Vehicle Management

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By Josie Garthwaite

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