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Toyota, Duke to test electric-vehicle technology in Indiana

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Toyota Motor Corp. will test and refine electric-vehicle-charging technology in the Indianapolis area under a partnership with Duke Energy Corp. announced Wednesday morning.

“This is an opportunity to deepen the relationship with Toyota, to work on R&D,” said Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of Energy Systems Network, an Indianapolis-based not-for-profit clean-technology initiative involved in the project.

Toyota’s primary work in Indiana has involved vehicle manufacturing in Princeton and in Lafayette. Though the amount of research and development in this pilot program is modest, economic development officials hope it could spur other such efforts here by automotive companies.

Toyota’s pilot program in the metro area, to begin early next year, involves five Prius plug-in vehicles driven by Duke Energy customers.

Toyota will make Indianapolis its primary test location in North America of a common standard involving how electric vehicles and their charging stations communicate with electric utilities.

The system will allow motorists to choose their own charging strategy, such as charging during off-peak hours, when electric rates are cheaper. A large amount of electric utility tariff data is being compiled and will be used as part of the pilot.

“Smart charging through two-way communication with utilities will not only be a benefit to the customers but is crucial for the promotion of transportation electrification,” Edward Mantey, a vice president at Toyota Technical Center, said in a prepared statement.

Though Toyota has conducted much of its plug-in interface work in Japan, “they wanted to do something in North America to validate the technology,” Mitchell said.

The Society of Automotive Engineers recently developed a communication protocol between vehicles, charging stations and utility companies. This is considered the first big test of that protocol.
 
Focus groups have shown consumers don’t want to have to worry about determining the best times to charge their cars,” said Sue O’Leary, associate project director for Duke Energy.

The technology being tested should allow consumers “to put the charging in the back of the mind. They want to plug it in when they get home and not have to worry about it.”

Communication could occur over the Internet or via “smart,” two-way electric meters that utilities are installing in their networks.

Duke is also interested in the test as it helps the utility forecast how much electric-vehicle charging could affect its grid. That data could be used to help forecast long-term infrastructure needs.

Plug-in vehicles probably won’t significantly affect utilities for the next decade, as their numbers are few. But utilities often plan for grid upgrades and new generating plants decades in advance.

“To me this is the sweet spot, where the real value of the plug-in vehicle starts to show itself to the consumer,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell also regards the Toyota project here as affirmation of the region’s efforts to build the infrastructure needed for clean-energy vehicles. Through the coordination by  ESN’s “Project Plug-IN” program, more than 100 vehicle charging stations have been installed in the metro area in recent years.

Indiana is already the nation’s second-largest automobile manufacturer as measured by gross domestic product. Toyota, Subaru, Honda and General Motors crank out some 880,000 vehicles annually in the state.

While Indiana today is known as a big car manufacturing state, more than a century ago it was a leader in research and development of the earliest automobiles, Indiana Commerce Secretary Daniel Hasler noted.

In 1894, Elwood Haynes began developing and manufacturing cars near Kokomo. Dozens of other automakers followed, including Duesenberg, in Indianapolis, which was highly regarded for its engineering.

Indiana’s public universities each year graduate more than 5,000 engineers, Hasler noted.

“What’s exciting about this [recharging pilot] is it is another example of how we can be very active and very engaged in the field of automotive” development, Hasler added.
 

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