Japanese automaker latest to test "smart home"

Toyota last week unveiled that it was working on a "Smart Centre," the latest automaker to confirm to be working on the systems to link homes, vehicles and power companies together to help monitor energy consumption.

The automaker, best known for the successful Prius hybrid, said that the Smart Centre system was developed as part of its smart grid initiatives, designed to support efficient energy use, and that it intends to bring the product to market by 2012.

Already being tested in two Toyota-owned houses, the system monitors energy use from all of the outlets in the house, from electric heating and water boilers to charging the company's plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The Japanese firm says that by bringing all of the information on power consumption together, the Smart Centre can co-ordinate tasks such as vehicle recharging to reduce electricity costs and emissions.

Houses equipped with their own generating equipment, such as solar panels, can also track the amount generated, and all users can remotely check information such as battery charge of the car or household power consumption from a smart phone.

Toyota isn't the only automaker getting into the smart grid game - Microsoft and Ford revealed that they have been collaborating on Microsoft's Hohm home management system earlier this year - but it is another prominent name to throw itself behind smart grid technology.

General Motors announced in September that it was working with a project in Germany to test home "charging management" solutions.

This surge of work around smart grid charging solutions reflects growing concern among electric vehicle manufacturers that today's electricity grids may not be able to cope with an influx of electric vehicles.