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Utility Companies Partner with Automakers to Get Ready for our Electric Future

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author photo by Autotrader August 2010

To prepare for the coming wave of plug-in electric vehicles (EV), automakers and power companies are combining their efforts and preparing in some unique ways.

Both the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf have grabbed plenty of headlines lately but those cars are just the tip of the EV iceberg; more plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles are coming including a plug-in Toyota Prius, the Fisker Karma series hybrid, a Smart EV, Mitsubishi's i-Miev and the Think City. Also, Ford says they'll soon be selling five electric vehicles including the Transit Connect and the Focus battery electric for 2011.

To prepare, Ford is collaborating with Portland General Electric (PGE) to help determine how EVs will affect local power grids. Ford says they "…will work together to share information on charging needs and requirements to ensure the electrical grid can support the necessary demand for electric vehicles." PGE currently has 20 charging stations and just opened the nation's first quick-charge station at its headquarters in Portland, Oregon. But these partnerships are reaching well beyond Oregon, a 14-city tour is planned to help educate public and private institutions as well as consumers about what to expect from EVs and what's needed to make them work as a viable alternative to gas powered cars.

Nissan did the same thing. It only makes sense; the Leaf is likely the first all-electric car the average American will come in contact with. To make the most of it, Nissan has partnered with local power companies like Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in Northern California, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) and Reliant Energy in Houston to name just a few.

In California, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is preparing for what they call a "new wave of plug-in electric vehicles." In order to support widespread EV use, Bill Boyce, SMUD's Supervisor for Electric Transportation said "SMUD is retooling all of our customer processes to support the new wave of plug-in electric vehicles…and reduce grid impacts." SMUD may have a head start compared to other mid-sized cities since Sacramento was one of the first test regions for General Motors' EV1.

For some people buying an EV and using little or no gas is a moral statement, for others it's about saving money. But driving an electric car isn't free; like gasoline, electricity still has to be purchased. To help alleviate fears of electric meters running wild, Detroit Edison (DTE) is offering a unique approach. Customers who live in Detroit and get their electricity from DTE can opt into a plan that will set their EV charging costs at flat fee of $40 per month per vehicle. DTE says this is an experiment and the program will end in December of 2012. DTE will also give customers $2,500 toward the cost of a separately metered charging station.

Finally, Ford, DTE and Xtreme Power are planning one of Michigan's largest solar power generating systems at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant (MAP) in Wayne, Mich. When completed, it should save $160,000 per year in energy costs. As part of the project, Ford will also install 10 electric vehicle-charging stations at MAP to demonstrate advanced battery charging technologies using renewable energy and other smart-grid advances. The stations will be used to recharge electric trucks that transport parts between adjacent facilities.

Of course automakers like Chevrolet, Ford and Nissan are simply looking to sell more cars no matter how they're powered. Partnering with local utility companies is a necessary first step toward gaining mainstream acceptance for EVs. Once worries about charging stations, vehicle range and cost are effectively addressed, EVs will certainly become a common sight in many parts of the country.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Utility Companies Partner with Automakers to Get Ready for our Electric Future - Autotrader