South Bay hosts plug-in car conference

July 22, 2008 7:26:22 PM PDT
Plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicle are a hot item in the auto industry. So the time was right for the first-ever plug-in vehicle conference in San Jose. One of the pressing concerns is whether our electric power grid is ready for a future filled with plug-ins.

We're a long way from the outlet replacing the pump, but car companies and the utilities realize they have to work together to get there.

Nancy Gioia heads Ford's global hybrid division.

"If you think about it we've got a consumer now that's going to be with two industries that have never worked together -- the utility industry and the automotive industry, connected by a common fuel called electricity, if you will," said Gioia.

Gioia is out from Ford's Michigan headquarters at the first-ever plug-in conference in San Jose. She's joining hundreds of other leaders working toward what could be the electric vehicle world of the future.

One of the first questions they've asked is can our power grid handle it.

Dr. Tom Turrentine heads U.C. Davis' Electric Vehicle Research Center. He says the capacity is there.

"It would have to be managed. That's the one thing we have to do, we don't want to be charging our vehicles at 4:00 p.m. on August 4th in California when it's hot," said Dr. Turrentine.

So power companies are coming up with ways to manage power usage.

"The grid that has served us really well for all these years, 100-plus years is really quite dumb," said Andrew Tang from PG&E.

Tang says over the next four years, every PG&E customer will have the old meter replaced with a new, smart meter.

Among other so-called smart features, it could allow PG&E to schedule charging cars when power is cheapest, and most plentiful, usually overnight. The customer does nothing but attach the plug, PG&E and the smart meter do the rest.

"All the technology exists today off the shelf but we can't do a one off where it just works for PG&E just in our service territory. In order for this to work, it has to scale across the entire United States," said Tang.

GM has a plug-in scheduled for roll-out in 2010, but Ford won't commit to a time-frame for its plug-in. The conference runs through Thursday.


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