Plug It In, Plug It In, Say West Coast Utilities

Portland General Electric's PHEV charging station

West Coast utilities Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and Portland General Electric announced this week a few initiatives aimed at bringing electric vehicles closer to the road.

Portland General Electric said it will focus on building out infrastructure for the electric vehicles through a network of charging stations throughout its service territory. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi signed agreements with both Southern California Edison and PG&E to test a handful of its i MiEV electric cars over a three-year period. Mitsubishi says the partnership will allow it to test its battery technology; utilities will get a chance to test out how the vehicles can be used to smooth electrical demand on the power grid.

Utilities are eager to speed the adoption of both electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which could act as a kind of distributed, mobile power plant; when power demand goes up, instead of turning to expensive last-resort power plants, utilities could draw power from the batteries of plugged-in hybrid around their territory. Portland General Electric and the California utilities are all pairing their plug-in hybrid initiatives with investment in so-called “smart metering” technologies that will help regulate vehicle charging and discharging onto the grid.

Portland General Electric received approval earlier this year to implement a more than $130 million smart-metering project that will install 16,000 new meters during the six-month testing phase; additional meters will be installed through the end of 2010. When the project is complete, PGE estimates it will reap $18 million in annual operational savings. (PGE customers will foot the bill via an additional charge on their electric bill.)

Photo courtesy Portland General Electric