The announcement Monday from Ford and Southern California Edison that they will collaborate on commercializing plug-in hybrid cars represents a tentative step toward a replacing the petrol pump with the power outlet. At first glance, the agreement looks rather modest: Ford (F) will provide SoCal Edison (EIX) with a fleet of hybrid Ford Escape SUVs that will be converted to plug-in hybrid vehicles, or PHEVs, by developing a larger battery with a yet-unnamed partner. Ford and the utility will assess the the performance of PHEV Escapes and the potential for charging them with renewable energy like solar or wind. That means the utilility then could potentially tap the cars’ batteries to provide electricity to the grid during peak demand rather than rely so much on greenhouse-gas emitting power plants. Plug-in hybrids sport larger rechargeable batteries that allow the cars
to travel longer distances on electricity and thus use their gasoline engines less,
reducing CO2 emissions while significantly improving fuel efficiency.
But the real potential of the collaboration involves Ford and Southern California Edison’s interest in developing new markets for plug-in car batteries, which could reduce the cost of electric cars while providing new ways to store and use renewable energy. As Green Wombat earlier wrote, utility PG&E (PCG) is also exploring the potential to buy thousands of such batteries once they’ve outlived their usefulness for transportation but still retain capacity that could be used to store electricity produced by solar arrays and wind farms. As these programs progress, we could start to see the century-old axis between the auto and oil industries be supplemented by a new alliance between car makers and utilities.
"The utility industry and the auto industry have to really sit down and understand both sides of the technology equation," Ed Kjaer, an EV veteran who runs Southern California Edison’s electric transportation program, recently told Green Wombat. "The auto planners of the future need to understand the grid of the future. The designers of the grid of the future need to understand what is the technology capability of these cars connecting to the grid." Still, he cautions, there is much work to be done. One big issue: the impact on battery life if electric cars are used as mobile generators to provide electricity to the grid.
A note to readers: Green Wombat is on holiday in Australia so posting may be a bit sporadic over the next week or so.