As it stands today, the power grid is a sensitive thing. Too many people turn on the air conditioning at the same time, and the whole thing collapses. It's a problem that should ease up as smart grids and variable pricing become more common, but electric car charging still has the potential to put major strain on power sources. Ford hopes to ease that strain—and make PHEV charging easier for consumers—with its upcoming hybrid electric vehicles, including the 2012 PHEV Escape, 2010 Transit Connect commercial van, and battery electric 2011 Ford Focus.
Thank to collaborations with multiple utility partners (and a $30 million DOE grant for grid integration) the Ford vehicles can "talk" to the electric grid via wirelessly connected smart meters. Drivers use the in-dash navigational computer to decide when vehicles should recharge, for how long, and at what utility rate. So a driver could choose to charge her car in the middle of the night for 5 hours to reduce strain on the grid and keep electricity costs low. By partnering with utilities across the country, Ford hopes that drivers who purchase their vehicles in, say, New York can easily recharge in California.
The plan isn't flawless. What will happen when thousands (or millions) of drivers try to charge their EVs in the middle of the night, remains to be seen. And Ford's system also relies on the rapid and widespread adoption of smart grid technology in the next few years. Still, other companies are pursuing similar plug-in charging systems. Juice Technologies has developed a smart charging device for PHEVs that is scheduled for testing with San Diego Gas and Electric, and Gridpoint is working on its own smart charging software.