Last year car buyers bought a record 100,000 electric vehicles – and that number is expected to grow more and more each year. As electric cars like the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf leave dealer showrooms, the influx of EVs could weigh heavily on the United States’ aging electric system. But a team of scientists from the University of Vermont have proposed a new solution using smart meters that could reduce the strain on the nation’s power grid.

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Most electric vehicles are re-charged in the evening hours after drivers return home from their daily commutes. This means that the nation’s electricity distribution systems (like transformers and underground cables) will become strained in the evening hours. The Vermont team believes that vehicle charging times could be prioritized using a network of smart meters, which would lessen the strain on the grid.

“The key to our approach is to break up the request for power from each car into multiple small chunks—into packets,” says Jeff Frolik, a professor in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and co-author on the new study.

The new method would allow a car to recharge for a set period, like five or ten minutes at a time, and there would be a priority system in place, which would basically be like waiting in line at the gas station. Of course the new method would have an emergency system in place if you needed to fully recharge your car’s battery right away.

“By charging cars in this way, it’s really easy to let everybody share the capacity that is available on the grid,” stated UVM’s Paul Hines. The team’s findings will be published in the March issue of IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid.