Utilities Jump on Board to Plan for
a World of Plug-in Cars
Mar 31, 2008 - USA Today
In a sign of accelerating progress on plug-in hybrids
-- the 100 mpg vehicles you can't yet buy in showrooms
-- electric utilities quickly are linking with automakers
and tech companies to develop "smart-charging" technology
that controls when and how fast a vehicle is recharged.
"Smart charging is an essential capability for Duke
and all electric utilities as PHEVs enter the market,"
Duke Energy chief technology officer David Mohler
says. "Through this capability, we're able to reduce
stress on the grid during peak periods and keep rates
As if to make the point that plug-ins no longer are
exotic experiments, California clean-air regulators
last week required automakers to put 58,333 of them
on the state's roads from 2012 through 2014.
Certain that plug-ins are imminent, utilities and
others are moving on everyday details for recharging.
"People are saying, '(Plug-ins) are more immediate
than I expected,'" says David Kaplan, chief technology
officer and founder of V2Green, a Seattle company
with smart-charging technology. "We've been in this
almost two years, which makes us old-timers, and we've
seen a sea change."
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have bigger
batteries than normal gasoline-electric hybrids and
can be recharged from a household outlet. They run
on their electric motors more and their gasoline engines
less. Prototypes suggest 70 mpg to 120 mpg is possible.
Other plug-ins coming are pure electric cars, such
as General Motors' Volt, due in 2010 or 2011.
Developments on thorny questions of when, where and
how to recharge, how to pay the bill and dealing with
more power demand:
*The Electric Power Research Institute is linking
Ford Motor with a group of East Coast utilities that
will test ways to recharge Ford's prototype plug-in
Escape hybrid. EPRI says it's in partnership with
the automaker on recharging and billing details. Ford
also has supplied plug-in Escapes to utility Southern
*Duke Power and GridPoint, a vendor of smart-charging
programs, reported last week that they charged during
off-peak night hours an electric vehicle that was
plugged in late in the afternoon.
*V2Green announced a deal to monitor plug-ins used
by the Idaho National Laboratory. It also is working
with utilities in Denver and Austin on managing timing
and pace of vehicle charging.
Standardizing charging and payment details might
seem basic. But it's as radical as trying to develop
gas stations while Karl Benz was inventing the first
gasoline-power automobile in the 1880s. Benz ignored
refueling, and his son Eugen had to run alongside
with a bottle of fuel at the first public demonstration
in 1886. His wife, Berta, stopped at pharmacies for
cleaning fluid to fuel a 65-mile trip in 1888.
Plug-in backers want to avoid problems and optimize
For example, shifting recharging to times when a
utility has extra capacity and could price lower is
key. Otherwise, plugging in thousands of rechargeable
cars in the same area at high-demand times could bring
power shortages or boost pollution as utilities crank
up their oldest plants for peak demand.
Proper timing also could make better use of clean
power. "More wind power is produced at night," Kaplan
says, and smart-charging software can tell the power
grid to charge the car during the windiest hours.
Another aspect of smart charging is billing the right
"If I invite you to my house and you want to charge,
I'd want it to be on your bill, not mine," says Clay
Perry, EPRI spokesman.
"We're currently working with auto companies and
our own smart-grid experts on every possible way to
manage charging," says Mark Duvall, manager of EPRI's
Electric Transportation program. "Telematics systems
in vehicles, smart metering at utilities -- there
are many ways."
Selling power to plug-ins "can be a good business
proposition" for utilities, Duvall notes, so nothing
is intended to discourage charging.
As envisioned, for example, owners could override
smart systems when they need instant charging.
"If a guy comes in and wants to plug in, we want
him to plug in. We don't want the hybrid customer
to be a second-class customer, but we want to manage
the cost," he says. "If I have a Chevy Volt and plug
in at peak, and just didn't realize, I'm going to
be mad at General Motors, mad at the utility company"
when billed for high-priced electricity.
Says Duvall, "There's a joke about two buttons on
a car. One says 'Charge now,' and the other says,
Contributing: Chris Woodyard (c) Copyright 2008 USA
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