ZAP Licenses National Lab's Smart Charger

Engineer Michael Kintner-Meyer with his team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

ZAP Electric Vehicles, the low-speed electric vehicle maker with a history of making (and breaking) ambitious promises, is looking to a government lab for technology for “smart charging” plug-in vehicles — a system that can vary the rate and time at which a car draws juice from the power grid. This morning ZAP said it will license the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) Smart Charger Controller, a device that PNNL developed over a year ago, and which ZAP can use to enable car owners to tap into lower electricity rates and help utilities minimize strain on the grid.

PNNL’s controller uses wireless Zigbee-based technology to connect the device to a smart meter on the home or to other connection points on the power grid, which then communicates to the utility’s back office. DOE labs don’t often commercialize technology themselves, so companies, like communication network developers, power companies or other car makers such as ZAP, may license the technology to get into the smart charging business. A raft of companies in the private sector are working on this as well (see our chart of 10 Electric Car Smart Charging Players to Watch).

ZAP’s license with PNNL is non-exclusive, and through its agreement with Battelle, which operates PNNL for the government, ZAP plans to distribute the technology through its Korean investor and partner, Samyang Optics. The Santa Rosa, Calif.-based electric vehicle maker also can sub-license the tech to its joint venture in China with power meter maker Holley Group.

ZAP has licensed PNNL’s tech for use in charging stations. But back when we originally spoke with PNNL engineer Michael Kintner-Meyer a year ago, he explained to us that the smart charging controller can be installed in three places — a smart power cord, in a charging station or in the vehicle itself — and he expected the first two locations to be most common at first.

Photo courtesy of ZAP