Ford announced today that it will partner with Texas utility giant Oncor to prepare the northern region of the state for electric vehicles (EVs). The collaboration will range from consumer education to working behind-the-scenes to gather data and prepare the grid for EVs.
The automaker announced a similar partnership last month with another regional utility, Portland General Electric. It plans to bring five electrified vehicles to market over the next two years – the Focus battery electric, which we test-drove today, will debut in late 2011. It’s worth nothing that Ford’s all-electric car is coming to market nearly a year after competitors like Nissan, which will deliver a limited run of the Leaf in December before expanding nationwide.In our test drive , the Focus Electric handled nicely except for one interesting aside. When I reached over to turn on the air conditioning (the test drives were held on a blistering hot Dallas afternoon), a Ford representative insisted we turn it back off – the A/C usage drains the battery too much, she said. (Believe it or not, we couldn’t figure out how to turn the air off thanks to a confusing control panel, so, thankfully, things stayed nice and cool while I zoomed around the parking lot.)
As one of my passengers noted, it seems then that all-electric cars would be a poor fit for markets like Texas with extreme temperatures and longer driving distances, and not just because of potential battery concerns. Ford projects the biggest demand will be in plug-in hybrids, which also happen to be the most complicated and expensive model to make.
Another interesting tidbit: While Ford is partnering with Coulomb to provide 5,000 home and public charging stations across the country, Coulomb’s technology may cut short the life of EV batteries. The stations can charge a battery to 80 percent capacity in about 10 minutes. Ford is testing its batteries, which are made by Johnson Controls, on the Coulomb chargers in an intensive process spokesman Dan Pierce likened to “waterboarding” the batteries.
Oncor, for its part, has installed 1.2 million smart meters, which would presumably help consumers decide when rates are lowest for charging EVs. The utility also plans to build 850 miles of new transmission lines in West Texas, where wind energy is collected. (In fact, West Texas produces more wind power than any other region in the nation).
Wind energy could be well-positioned for charging EVs, because there’s more wind at night, when cars would presumably be plugged into owners’ homes.
“It’s the perfect solution,” said Don Clevenger, a senior vice president at Oncor. He also said EVs won’t strain the Texas grid thanks to energy reserves that are healthy for the next five years, he said — it would take more than growing EV usage to make a dent in the “reserve margin.” This essentially means Texas produces more energy than is used.
Among the other issues Ford is working on is educating emergency responders on what to do if electric vehicles are involved in an accident — due to the high voltage of the batteries, it could pose a hazard to emergency personnel.