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Where am I going tomorrow? My 'leccy car charger wants to know

Pumping the right amount of juice for your journey

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ERIC There’s a definite green tinge to Intel’s European Research and Innovation Conference (ERIC) this year, with a cash-saving electric car charger being touted alongside energy management ideas.

It's not escaped El Reg that Intel is touting its green tech wizardry in Leixlip, Co. Kildare, in the Emerald Isle.

The "context-aware" 'leccy motor charger is a project Intel boffins are working on, in partnership with SAP and Irish utility firm ESB, that will involves a fondleslab charging your eco-friendly car at the lowest cost possible to the owner.

While everyone wants to be a bit greener, one thing the utility companies are thinking about, and worrying about, is the problems that will arise on the power grid when everyone gets home at 6pm and starts charging their car. Already a peak time for energy usage, a wide adoption of battery-operated cars would push grids to the limit, and possibly over it, every teatime.

The solution of Intel, SAP and ESB to this problem is to get a smart Intel tablet hooked up to run your charging for you. You plug in your car when you get home, but the program doesn’t start the juice flowing until the right time, both for the utility company and your wallet.

To make the whole thing even smarter still, the program will have access to your calendar so it knows what you’re going to be doing the next day and exactly how much power you’ll need to do it.

“So the consumer comes home and plugs the car in and forgets about it, the system charges it to the right level for the next day’s schedule,” the obviously highly organised Paul O’Reilly, researcher at SAP Research Belfast, told The Register at the demo at ERIC.

The system will have its own diary system, but the ‘software guys’, as O’Reilly calls them, are also looking at ways to integrate external todo lists, such as Google Calendar.

But all that is in the future as the system gets its first trial early next year in Northern Ireland.

Plugged-In Places, the UK government's electric transport programme, will put a few tens of cars, probably no more than 40, on the first live test of the system.

O’Reilly reckons “people are more predictable than you think”, particularly when it comes to their working week routine, but both he and ESB e-cars demonstrations project manager Mark Daly say folks will need a “big red button” to override the system’s idea of what the charge should be, just in case.

“It’ll learn your profile to know what kind of charge you’re supposed to use,” Daly said, but “you can bypass it”.

That learning will include not only looking at your calendar, but also looking at how you drive. As O’Reilly puts it, you might be “a bit heavy” on the accelerator, so the charge it takes you to drive somewhere might not be the same as the power another driver needs for the same journey.

There’s also a lot of analysis going on at the utility’s end, which is where the SAP software is located. It’s not just peak times that program will be looking at, but the weather and how much power is on the grid. For example, in Ireland’s case, the amount of available energy fluctuates with how much wind power is getting generated and added to the grid.

If the SAP software detects that the amount of expected wind power hasn’t materialised, it will, for example, let your system know that the usual top-up time of midnight is no good tonight because the price has gone up, so just for tonight, your car should get its fix around 2am instead.

This kind of precision utility bill is the main benefit for the customer, who can make sure they only pay peak prices when they absolutely have to.

O’Reilly said SAP has also been talking to its utility partners in the States, and there’s a lot of interest, but he refuses to be drawn on any kind of timeline for the rollout of such a project.

“Let me just say that if it is a successful pilot, it would be in SAP’s interest to get it out as quickly as possible,” he said. ®

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