Free electric car chargers coming to Philly-area homes

    Residents and business owners in the greater Philadelphia area can now apply to have a free electric vehicle charger installed in their homes or businesses.

    ECOtality, a California company backed by $115 million in federal grant money, is moving in to the Philadelphia market.

    Drivers who own a Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt can apply to have an ECOtality charger installed in their homes.

    The company’s Philadelphia-area manager Marc Sobelman said they can be programmed ahead of time.

    “If some resident comes home and they want to charge their vehicle, they can set it to go on at 9 and go off at a certain time such as 5 in the morning, taking advantage of less expensive utility rates at that time,” Sobelman said.

    The company has already installed more than 7,000 chargers in other states.

    The chargers will also collect data to help in the development of a nationwide charging infrastructure, said Department of Energy spokeswoman Jen Stutsman.

    “When was it plugged in, how long was it plugged in, when did it start charging, how much electricity was transferred at the peak, how much was transferred during the average times of charging,” Stutsman listed. 

    That information will help researchers and utilities determine what impact greater numbers of electric cars would have on the grid.

    ECOtality’s Sobelman said it would be difficult, but not necessarily impossible, for people who park their cars on the street to use the chargers.

    The company was the target of a Mitt Romney campaign ad that compared it with the now-bankrupt Solyndra.

    ECOtality did post net losses in 2010 and 2011, but a response statement from the company asserts it is “vibrant and quickly moving toward its goal.”

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