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PHOTO CAPTION: Meyers Motors NMG2 two-place electric commuter concept.

The EV World of 2020?

Popular Mechanics' pragmatic perspective of electric car ownership in California circa 2020.

Published: 22-May-2010

With the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt and other plug-in cars entering the market, potential buyers wonder: How will recharging stations work? What will a "fill up" cost? To answer those questions, we talked to dozens of experts and spent a day with a hypothetical EV driver from the future.

Santa Monica, California, 12 AM, August 4, 2020. At midnight, your car wakes up. The hefty, 15-pound charging cable tethering the front of the vehicle to a 220-volt outlet in your garage goes live, pulling 5 kilowatts of power from the grid. In just 5 hours, it will nearly double your home's average daily electrical consumption. Across California, hundreds of thousands of plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles are doing the same, sipping electricity from a power network at rest. Some of those vehicles have different charging regimens, communicating more with the local utility, or even allowing that utility to actively control when and how to recharge their batteries. But yours follows a simple pricing scheme, automatically charging during what is typically the cheapest time of the day, between midnight and 5 am. That's when the utilities have power to spare, when the office buildings in downtown Los Angeles have gone dark and sweltering. In the daily rhythm of the grid, this is off-peak.

Tonight, though, the off-peak grid is unusually busy. Air conditioners across Southern California are battling a week-long heat wave, with temperatures exceeding 100 F during the day and barely easing up at night. So far, it's the worst heat wave to hit the region since 2006. The forecast for today shows no signs of a break: Angelenos can expect afternoon highs of 103 F. Aug. 4 is shaping up to be one of the first real tests of the so-called smart grid, an effort to create a nimbler, more efficient, less vulnerable electrical grid. It will also test the nearly 500,000 electrified vehicles in the state.

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