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Planet Ark World Environment News Utilities Pledge To Be Ready For Plug-In Autos

Date: 22-Oct-09
Country: US
Author: Bernie Woodall

DETROIT - If electric cars plug in at rates hoped for by automakers in the coming years, there will be enough power to serve them, the biggest U.S. electric utilities industry group vowed on Wednesday.

The utilities have pledged to make sure the electricity is there on demand, to work with policy makers on tax rebates and customer financial incentives and to make it easy for consumers to charge up car batteries, according to the Edison Electric Institute.

Convincing Americans of the benefits of plugging in will be a big part of the utilities-automakers efforts, announced at a plug-in conference in Detroit. They will also try to convince consumers to charge up an electric vehicle's batteries at night when power is cheaper and easily available.

"Our industry acutely recognizes that now is the time to redouble our ongoing efforts to lay the groundwork for making plug-in electric transportation in this country a reality, not just a vision," said Anthony F. Earley, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Detroit-based DTE Energy, who is this year's chairman of the Edison Electric Institute.

One of the biggest hurdles in electrifying the U.S. vehicle fleet is the need for standardization in plugging in.

Ted Craver, chief executive of Edison International and its electric utility Southern California Edison, said utilities must work closely with public policy makers, private organizations, and automakers to make sure a charging infrastructure is in place as sales of plug-ins rise

Craver said in an interview with Reuters that utilities and suppliers of electrical equipment, along with automakers and their suppliers, must make components that are standard regardless of the type of battery is used in vehicles.

As electric vehicles (EVs) develop, they are expected to improve batteries, but keeping components standard from the start will help keeps costs down and facilitate EVs expansion, Craver said.

A report this week by PriceWaterhouseCoopers noted that the promise of electric vehicles depends on infrastructure development, environmental impact and government support.

It cited the need for more government assistance to make EVs more affordable, particularly in the next few years.

While U.S. President Barack Obama wants a million plug-in vehicles by 2015 in the United States alone, PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated that to be near 600,000 to 700,000 vehicles by 2015.

Craver said he considers public education the most important step in the early day electric vehicle expansion.

If the extra load by consumers driving plug-in hybrid and purely electric vehicles increases afternoon peak demand, then more power plants and powerlines will need to be constructed. Charging batteries at night will keep cut those capital costs.

Dallas-based Oncor, the biggest power delivery company in Texas, said on Wednesday its investment in wind energy will help power plug-in vehicles. Oncor and SCE each are installing "smart" meters that will give customers real-time pricing of power, proving to them that off-peak power demand cuts costs.

The EEI, Craver said, has gotten pledges of readiness from 20 CEOs in "early adopter" areas for plug-in vehicles.

Oncor is majority owned by Energy Future Holdings Corp, which is owned by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, TPG Capital and Goldman Sachs.

(Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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