For starters, Edison has created a Web site showing plug-in hybrid intenders how to prepare their homes for their new electric baby. Edison also will send technicians to install proper upgrades to a house's circuitry to handle the loads of charging a vehicle.
If city permitting and inspections are required, Edison will grease the skids. It also will offer flexible rate plans depending on the time of day a consumer charges his vehicle.
That all sounds like what a responsible utility should do. But there's more.
Looking longer term, Edison's r&d arm has constructed an electric-vehicle laboratory, complete with a “garage of the future” that evaluates how charging electric vehicles will affect the overall grid.
The garage has a 2-kilowatt solar-photovoltaic array on the roof, hooked into a 10-kilowatt-hour energy storage system that Edison's director of electric transportation, Ed Kjaer, calls “an island of energy management.”
Edison also is developing “smart meters” that send price-related signals to customers, letting them know the most efficient time to plug in their vehicles.
That's heady stuff from a utility that already uses a fleet of EVs that cover 120,000 miles a month, saving 9,600 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the internal combustion counterparts that Edison ordinarily would use.
The EV Test Center also works to advance existing technology. It converted a heavy-duty boom truck into a plug-in hybrid.
Now the center is pursuing the holy grail of energy storage technology, asking the U.S. Department of Energy for $52 million in r&d funding under President Barack Obama's stimulus package. The president visited the center earlier this year and left impressed.
The center currently has a 28-kilowatt-hour stack storing power into automotive-grade lithium ion batteries from supplier A123 Systems. Cram enough of those stacks inside an 8,000-square-foot building, and Edison could store 32 megawatts of energy -- enough to power 32,000 homes or to smooth the power delivery to thousands more.
Reducing fossil fuels
Edison's helping hand with plug-in vehicles is part of the utility's larger move away from using fossil fuels as a power source.
Currently, 16 percent of Edison's customer load is served by renewable energy, with a goal of 20 percent by 2010. That compares with 4 percent nationally, mostly because of America's reliance on coal, said Edison CEO Ted Craver.
“More than half of America's power comes from coal, and three-quarters of it comes from fossil fuel, which is cheap and controllable” Craver said. “The question is how we flip that so that fossil fuel is just one-quarter on the equation.”
Of course, the best locations for renewable sources such as solar and wind power are in the boonies, which makes transmission of the power difficult.
That's a problem, since energy politics are fickle, often shifting from clean coal to nuclear to biofuel to solar to wind to cold fusion. Similarly, putting billions into an EV infrastructure that's obsolete in 10 years would not be friendly to ratepayers or taxpayers. That makes picking the right technology an arduous task.
“In the utility industry, it's no longer hundreds of millions of dollars for a project, it's billions,” Craver said. “We are the ultimate capital-intensive industry. We have to eat that cooking for 30 years.”