Utilities are among the groups now considering mass orders of electric vehicles from the U.S. automobile manufacturing sector, to help the auto companies make the biggest manufacturing realignment since since WWII.

The exploratory discussions are being conducted at top levels and among firms like PG&E who see plug in hybrid and all electric vehicles as a solution to uneven grid loads. Utilities have invested a great deal of research using the vehicle to grid (V2G) capabilities of plugged in electric vehicles to stabilize the grid.


The idea being considered would involve joining together to put in a substantial order to put weight behind development of Plug In Hybrids (PHEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs). The idea is that large fleet orders would provide the certain market car makers need to make the initial move away from fossil fueled vehicles.

With their buying power (they could order 50,000 electric vehicles for their fleets) utilities could provide a solid beginning to switching Detroit to entirely new vehicle markets.

Talks with automakers have occurred individually and through the electric industry’s primary trade organization, the Edison Electric Institute, and include Xcel, Progress Energy, PG&E, Edison International and Wisconsin Energy Corp.

Dick Kelly, chief executive of Xcel Energy in Minneapolis said, “If we get enough of us together, we could put in a very large order and maybe a big down payment.”

Utilities gain less in increased electricity sales than in grid stabilization; evening out the load with the prospect of being able to swap electrons back and forth between a fleet of vehicles and the grid.  PHEVs draw only about 1.4–2 kW of power while charging; only about what a dishwasher draws.

The benefits for the nation are huge. Plug-In Hybrids leave their Hybrid counterparts in the dust, in mileage.

For example, where the Ford Escape Hybrid gets mileage in the 20’s or 30’s, a Plug In Escape would get over 80 MPG. It has now completed a year of successful testing with Southern California Edison.

The many aftermarket Prius conversions boast over 100 MPG as Plug In Hybrids compared with about 50 MPG as a first-gen Hybrid. Aftermarket Ford truck conversions similarly get about twice the mileage of their non plugged in hybrids.

And the Chevy Volt Extended-Range EV is designed from the ground up as an EV that only gets a boost for long-distance from gas. It would get also get over 100 MPG in cross-country driving, and not need gasoline for trips under 40 miles a day.

Further development to get these to market are endangered by the auto meltdown. In fact, to some extent, we have stopped buying new vehicles precisely because we are waiting for the switch to the post gasoline era vehicles.

So, Mark Duvall, a researcher at the EPRI suggests that the best help for automakers would be a multiyear order placed in one group from utilities fleets.

That’s because early models may be money losers, so multiyear orders would help automakers achieve profitable production. He estimates fuel savings, for utilities, at $10,000 to $15,000 per car. This kind of certain ongoing manufacturing order is a very safe way to grow small businesses from scratch, and could even help restabilize the large automanufacturers in the same way now that their future is under threat.

“I would do it,” says Gale Klappa, CEO of Wisconsin Energy, adding that his utility has about 3,000 vehicles in its fleet and replaces 20% each year. Bill Johnson, chief executive of Progress Energy Inc. said, “Our industry is interested in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, and it seems like a good idea for auto makers and us to pull together,”

He added that the idea is in a formative stage and is “gaining momentum.”

Related stories:

$50 Billion CalCars Plan to Jumpstart Detroit

Let’s Pay Detroit To Bring Their Gas Sipping Cars Home To the USA

Via the Wall Street Journal.

Image from the EPRI