NextEnergy has agreed to help develop those national standards. This spring NextEnergy will begin testing components and cars in a building adjacent to its Detroit headquarters that houses what is called a microgrid that is already hooked up to DTE Energy.
"This could be a way to have a market subsidy," said Gary Gauthier, NextEnergy's director of business development. "This isn't near-term. We need to get the OEMs involved. Realistically, it'll be three to five years before we even have small-scale operations up and running.
The theory is similar to that used in the past by utility companies that used electricity to pump water to the top of a tower at night, when electricity demand -- and prices -- were low, then released the water to run a generator during peak demand periods in the daytime. That process used more electricity than it created but made economic sense because the utility was buying low and selling high.
Similarly, the owner of an electric vehicle could charge the car with cheap electricity -- either at night or, perhaps, by using solar panels on the garage roof -- and then sell power back to the grid when demand, and prices, were high.
There are drawbacks. For example, battery life is reduced by charging and discharging. Will EV owners really embrace selling juice back to the grid if it means they have to replace their batteries after six years instead of 10?
And while the national grid can handle the increased electric demands of having 100,000 EVs on the road, even a few EVs charging in neighboring garages can put a strain on the local grid in some locations. Whether the local and national grids, as they exist now, can deal with thousands or hundreds of thousands of vehicles charging and discharging remains to be proven.
According to a forecast in November by Pike Research, 100,000 vehicles could be feeding power back into the national grid by 2017.
Some energy prognostications see the vehicle-to-grid idea as much ado about nothing; others see a revolution in power generation in coming decades that will help free us from dependence on oil.
A 2010 report by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers called vehicle-to-grid technology "the most promising opportunity in electrical vehicle adoption," but said that "due to certain technical and economical issues, it is still less likely to become a reality in the short term."
The report also referred to a study that estimated a potential return to electric vehicle owners on the California power grid of $3,038 to $5,038 per year.
Meanwhile, Willett Kempton, director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware, serves as a one-man proof of concept. He set up his electrified Scion to feed power back to the grid in 2009 and claims earnings of about $300 a month since then.