Utilities onboard for electric cars

The nation's electric companies have pledged to pull together and modernize their infrastructure to support plug-in hybrid electric vehicle demand.

The effort will include prepping the power grid for increased electricity use and adding charging stations, said Anthony Earley, CEO of DTE Energy in Detroit.

The utilities also will push for new incentives, such as tax credits and subsidized parking, to encourage consumers to make the switch, said Earley, who also is chairman for the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group for publicly held electric companies.

His remarks came on the final day of "The Business of Plugging In" conference in Detroit, a three-day event that drew more than 600 attendees to the MotorCity Casino-Hotel this week.

While utilities have taken steps independently to prepare for plug-in vehicles, the pledge will allow them to tackle the transition with a unified front.

"It makes it universal," Earley said. "We need to have a national infrastructure so as you drive across country you know your vehicle is supported."

There are no immediate timelines or financial commitments, he said, because many of the logistics have yet to be worked out.

The initiative will focus on several key areas where utilities can improve the framework for plug-in electric vehicles. They include building out an infrastructure that can withstand increased electricity use, educating consumers on plug-in technology and adding electric vehicles to power company fleets.

"This will ease the shift to a more robust charging infrastructure needed to serve full battery electric vehicles long term," Earley added. Unlike plug-in hybrid electrics, full electric vehicles use no gas and emit no carbon tailpipe emissions.

For now, most utilities have the capacity to handle the first wave of plug-in hybrids entering the market. At first, electricity customers may even see electricity rates go down because the added demand will help even out the fixed cost to supply power across a customer base buying more power, Earley said.

But eventually -- with millions of plug-in electrics on the road -- power companies will have to upgrade their grids, not only to handle more demand but also to communicate with the vehicles directly. This could push up rates overtime.

"You then have to build new infrastructure," Earley said, which will require constructing more power plants.

Educating customers on the new technology will also be crucial for fueling sales since many Americans are still confused or reticent about plug-in electric vehicles, said Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to converting vehicles to electric.

"2010 is an unexplored frontier and our most critical year," Kramer said, speaking at a separate panel discussion. In 2010, some of the first plug-in electric hybrids -- such as General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet Volt -- are expected to hit dealerships.

At the same time, he added, it will take years for the number of plug-in vehicles to hit a point where they make a real dent in carbon emissions, so converting gasoline-only vehicles to electric could also present an enormous business opportunity for entrepreneurs.

No comments:

Post a Comment