Smart Grid City: Manna for EVs

Last Updated Apr 17, 2009 8:19 AM EDT

Electric cars are great, but don't they just replace pollution from the tailpipe with pollution from the smokestack? And won't we be building a huge number of power plants--some of them fueled with dirty coal--if put millions of EVs online in the next few years?

Well, no. Utilities point out that their existing grids can easily add millions of EVs if the cars and trucks charge up at night, when demand is low. But who wants to get up in the middle of the night to plug in their car?

That's where the "smart grid" comes in. Visit America's "Smart Grid City," Boulder, Colorado, and watch as consumers monitor their energy use in real time from the comfort of their living rooms. Watch them unplug that basement freezer unit because now they know how much it's costing them in electricity every month. And marvel as they plug their hybrid cars in and sell energy back to the grid.

Well. They're not doing that part just yet. But both the futuristic Aptera and the Bright Idea (to be unveiled in Washington on Tuesday) will be equipped for this kind of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. And their proud owners will be able to recharge late in the evening, all without getting out of bed.

I saw V2G demonstrated by California utility PG&E in a parking lot in Palo Alto. The electric meter spun backwards as the car interacted with the grid. And I've talked to several Prius owners who've modified their cars to run their homes during blackouts. That's the built-in advantage of a big battery pack.

V2G is an embryonic idea, but it is sure to grow. President Barack Obama's stimulus package includes $11 billion for kicking off the smart grid infrastructure. So get used to the idea of owning a smart car connected to a smart grid. Here's what it looks like: