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What is the Smart Grid?

Plug-In Electric Vehicles

Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) are now being rolled out to consumers throughout the United States. General Motors Company is producing the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid. Ford Motor Company is producing the Ford Electric Focus and Nissan Motors is manufacturing the Leaf, both of which are all-electric vehicles. And a number of startup companies are producing specialty PEVs, the most prominent being Tesla Motors, producer of the all-electric Tesla Roadster.

The Smart Grid will have the infrastructure needed to enable the efficient use of this new generation of PEVs. PEVs can drastically reduce our dependence on oil, and they emit no air pollutants when running in all-electric modes. However, they do rely on power plants to charge their batteries, and conventional fossil-fueled power plants emit pollution.

To run a PEV as cleanly as possible, it needs to be charged in the wee hours of the morning, when power demand is at its lowest and when wind power is typically at its peak. Smart Grid technologies will help to meet this goal by interacting with the PEV to charge it at the most optimal time. But sophisticated software will assure that your PEV is still fully charged and ready to go when you need it. And you'll still be able to demand an immediate recharge when you need it.

In the future, PEVs may play an important part in balancing the energy on the grid by serving as distributed sources of stored energy, a concept called "vehicle to grid." By drawing on a multitude of batteries plugged into the Smart Grid throughout its service territory, a utility can potentially inject extra power into the grid during critical peak times, avoiding brownouts and rolling blackouts. PEVs also have the potential to help keep isolated parts of the grid operating during blackouts. They could also help integrate variable power sources into the grid, including wind and solar power. Financial incentives may be available for PEV owners that allow their batteries to be used this way.

Enabling a Charging Infrastructure for PEVs

One of the key factors for acceptance of PEVs in the marketplace will be the availability of charging stations. Currently, a number of entities are building charging stations in cities throughout the United States, some of which are supported with DOE funding. For now, many municipalities and private companies are offering free recharges to PEV owners as an incentive for these clean vehicles. However, as PEVs gain market penetration, this "free refueling" is likely to come to an end, and charging station owners will be seeking a convenient way to charge PEV owners for their "fill-ups."

Smart Grid technologies offer a potential solution to this problem, at least within the area served by the energy provider of the PEV owner. With the Smart Grid, PEVs can identify themselves to the charging station when they are plugged in, and the electricity used can be automatically billed to the owner's account. The technology will not only simplify transactions for the charging station owners, but also allow PEV owners to charge up without the need for cash or a credit card.