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USA; Could electric cars help supply the power grid? Researchers will use Austin to find out

Dennis and Carole Mick are self-described “enthusiasts” about saving energy.

They live in the Mueller Community, have solar panels on their roof, participate in Pecan Street Inc.’s energy research project and drive a hybrid Prius.

They love their Prius, but it’s their second love, a plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt, that might someday help homeowners and state grid operators to manage electricity use. It’s Pecan Street’s cluster of more than 50 Volts — the largest in one neighborhood in the nation — that has brought General Motors and OnStar to Austin as Pecan Street’s newest partners.

For 16 years, OnStar has been communicating with GM customers in their cars, usually in times of emergencies. But now the company is re-imagining itself to also be an energy manager for a fleet of electric vehicles.

The electric vehicle market is minuscule today, but some day, they could potentially serve as a fleet of mobile batteries that could store power until it is needed by a homeowner or grid operators during peak power demands.

Until now, OnStar’s experiments have been limited to small demonstration projects or work in the lab. Now they want to begin test-driving their theories with Austinites.

“This partnership provides us with a unique opportunity to observe charging details with many real customers in a concentrated setting,” said Nick Pudar, OnStar vice president for strategy and business development. “We are moving our lab demonstrations into the real world.”

The Micks already are monitoring their home’s energy use on their home computer and use OnStar’s apps on their computer and smartphones.

But they also grasp the broader possibilities.

Told of OnStar’s vision, Dennis Mick now sees his Volt’s potential as more than just a car. It also could double someday as a battery for his home’s other electrical needs.

“Technically, I’ve got storage,” he said.

Volts already can be programmed to begin charging at a set time, long after the cars have been plugged in.

With time-of-use rates, the Micks could charge their Volt at night, when power is cheaper.. Then they could use their solar panels and their Volt’s stored power to reduce the need to pull electricity off the grid during the afternoon’s pricey time period.

“We don’t get any benefit from charging off-peak,” Dennis Mick said. “We’d love to have that.”


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