Mercedes-Benz and a German utility are teaming with the state of California and San Diego Gas & Electric on a three-year project to test use of electric cars and smart chargers by 40 faculty, staff and students at UC San Diego.

Representatives of Daimler AG, parent of Mercedes-Benz, the utility RWE Effizienz GmbH, the California Energy Commission, SDG&E and UC San Diego launched the project Wednesday with a ceremony outside Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Study participants will lease vehicles locally and use 26 new chargers installed at seven locations on the campus by SDG&E and the German utility. The vehicles are specially equipped smart fortwo electric drive models produced by Mercedes-Benz.

The first participant is Ram Ramanathan, distinguished professor of atmospheric and climate sciences at Scripps, who plugged his car to a charger during the ceremony.

Ramanathan said he has been “pleading about cutting down air pollution,” and now he, personally, can help. “This is one of the magic bullets we have, so thank you, California,” he said.

The smart chargers communicate between the vehicle and the electric grid to match charging needs with the availability and cost of power.

James P. Avery, senior vice president of power supply for San Diego Gas & Electric, said the technology simplifies the process of charging and is key to supporting the increasing use of electric vehicles, noting that the San Diego area already has 65,000. “You can just go up and plug in and not think about it,” he explained.

The California Energy Commission provided a $300,000 grant to underwrite the project. Commissioner Janea Scott explained that transportation is the leading source of climate-changing greenhouse gas and said California’s goal is to have 1 million zero-emission vehicles, most of them electric, on the road by 2020.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.