Monday, January 31, 2011

Electric Car Preparations

From Saturday's Commercial Appeal...

Memphis Light Gas and Water getting set for arrival of electric cars

Electric cars are rare today, but Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division is betting that they'll be much more common in the future.

"The electric vehicles are absolutely, positively coming," said Richard H. Bowker, who took charge in December of electric vehicle planning for the utility.

In a presentation Friday, Bowker said the utility is buying some electric vehicles for its own use and working with other agencies to study how the new vehicles would affect the power distribution network.

In the longer term, the utility plans to begin identifying sites for public chargers, Bowker said.

In Knoxville this week, TVA and the Electric Power Research Institute unveiled a prototype electric vehicle charging station, said TVA spokesman David Boruff.

And federal tax dollars will help build charging stations in some Tennessee towns and cities as part of the "EV Project." West Tennessee was left out of this effort, but it's unclear why.

Bowker said MLGW's plans for electric-vehicle infrastructure are closely tied to another concept: Smart Grid, which is the use of technology to monitor electricity consumption both at the household level and elsewhere in the power system.

Planners hope that in-home monitors and other devices will help people identify exactly how much power they're using and encourage them to conserve it. About 1,000 Memphis-area households are receiving "smart meters" as part of an ongoing demonstration project.

Both MLGW and TVA, the wholesaler that provides its electricity, have long-term plans to introduce time-of-use metering, which is the concept of charging different power rates at different times.

The goal is to reduce the strain on the power grid by encouraging people to run washing machines and other appliances during night hours when demand for electricity is lowest. TVA wants to avoid the cost of building power plants that would operate only at times of peak electricity demand.

Planners hope to persuade people to plug in their electric cars late at night and reduce strain on the system, Bowker said. He said they also want to work with companies that will operate fleets of electric vehicles.

One Memphis corporate giant is doing this now. FedEx Corp. said in its most recent annual report that it already had the largest fleet of hybrid electric trucks and that it had worked with other companies to develop a new, all-electric delivery truck that it is using in London and Los Angeles.

"As the capital costs of these electric vehicles come down -- and their battery capacity and range go up -- we'll be able to convert more of our fleet," the report said.

Auto makers are introducing hybrid vehicles that use both fossil fuel and batteries as well as vehicles that only have batteries. They're still expensive: the new Chevrolet Volt has a base sticker price of $40,280, according to The Associated Press.

The federal government backs the electric car as a way to cut pollution and oil use. In the State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Barack Obama said America could become "the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015."

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