PHEVs need juice, though, and most recharge through an electrical outlet or dedicated home charging system. The battery and electro-motive systems serve to save on gas by moving the car when it uses the most gas, such as from a standing start or low-speed maneuvers. The gas engine takes over at higher speeds when the car is most fuel efficient.
Some PHEVs use the gas engine to run a generator to recharge the battery pack. Others use the two systems in independent cooperation. Several major car companies, including Ford and Toyota, are experimenting with different PHEV technology, as well as all-electric vehicles.
Smart grid charging stations, though not a reality at this time, will likely take on two flavors -- the at-home station, and those used by companies and businesses.
Several places in the United States have installed charging stations capable of putting an almost full charge on an electric vehicle in only a few hours. These are generally Level 2 charging stations.
There are several companies now working with auto makers to bring something akin to a Level 3 station on line.
In 2010 GE trundled out the WattStation for commercial users. The station, at a price of more than $5,000, allowed businesses to install a recharging point for their customers that looked good and functioned well at Level 2 charging capabilities. Recently GE rolled out a wall mount electric vehicle charging station with Level 2 capabilities. The units cost a little more than $1,000, should be installed by professionals, and offer Level 2 recharging.
GE said the WattStation is designed to change with the coming smart grid and can be programmed to handle the potential expanded communication between car and grid.
While communication is the key to an effective smart grid most consumers want a charging station that powers up the car as quickly as possible.
The horizon technology for speed in 2011 is CHAdeMO. While more of a protocol than a distinctive technology, CHAdeMO uses DC voltage, a special plug, and a specific charging program to charge a typical battery pack in less than half an hour. This is the elusive Level 3 charging. AAA recently announced they will begin, in an unspecified time frame, offering an EV recharging service with a possible Level 3 capability using CHAdeMO.
This speed, most experts agree, will determine if electric vehicles become common, and the smart grid will rely on electric vehicles if it is to become reality.
A U.S. Department of Energy map showing charging stations offers a glimpse into a changing EV landscape as well as illustrating some surprises in the EV world.
For example, Washington State offers a relatively large number of public charging stations, between 100 and 200, not surprising for a very ecologically-oriented part of the country. Right up there with green Washington, however, is oil-rich Texas. California boasts 500, Kentucky has none.
For Geller, of Plug In America, the best way to see more stations is to produce more electric vehicles and have more on the road. "Right now the manufacturers can't meet demand," he said.
Once more EVs are out there the more people will accept the idea. The more they accept the idea, the more automakers will want charging stations at public places, businesses, and in homes.
Then CHAdeMO, the WattStation, and other stations designers and engineers are only toying with, will become reality.