Increased Electric Car Use Sparks Fla. Energy Regulators' Questions

Sep 6, 2012

Energy forecasters predict more and more Floridians will start driving electric cars. The state Public Service Commission met with electric car makers, utility company executives and energy policy researchers on Thursday to discuss the benefits and challenges of having more alternative-fuel vehicles on the roads.

Florida energy regulators heard presentations from several companies, each with something to gain from the expansion of electric cars. One of the presenters, General Motors, has sold about 20,000 hybrid Chevrolet Volts in the U.S.

GM’s Britta Gross says the automaker expects more Floridians to buy rechargeable cars because drivers in the state are already seeing how much they can save on gas. She says one Volt owner in Fort Myers Shores is getting 100 miles per gallon. The more drivers who make the switch, she says, the less we depend on non-renewable fossil fuels.

“We have done something very, very important in this industry, and it’s moving miles over from gasoline that’s imported over to electricity that’s made right here," Gross says.

But Florida utility companies, including Gulf Power and Florida Power and Light, are more cautiously optimistic about the largely unregulated expansion of electric and hybrid cars. When the cars are plugged in to recharge, sometimes for eight hours straight, they draw from the grid.

And Progress Energy’s Christopher Gillman says, utilities would like data about which customers own the vehicles so they can make sure they can handle the increased load.

“In general, from a utility perspective, we’re constantly looking at the load and system planning. That’s pretty normal for us. What’s different about electric vehicles is perhaps the transformational change, the size of the charging," he says.

But gathering data about who owns which cars and where they live raises privacy concerns. Some automakers, like GM, already ask drivers’ permission to share their addresses with utility companies, but that’s purely voluntary and doesn’t give a complete picture of energy needs.

Several utility companies have also been collaborating with companies that make car charging stations to discuss the permitting process for adding stations in public places.

And adding to the complicated energy landscape, new models of hybrid and electric cars are hitting the market all the time, and the amount of energy it takes to charge them is varies greatly, from the same voltage it takes to run a hair dryer, to enough energy to power a generator.

But one thing regulators, manufacturers and utility companies agree on is that Florida needs to keep monitoring and planning for what seems like the inevitable growth in alternative-fuel vehicle use.