2 ways to learn all about electric cars

Electric cars remain commercially unproven.

The market is largely untested as it awaits the debut later this year of the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF and the expected introduction of the Coda next year.

But Southern California Edison, PG&E and other utilities have offered a major indicator that big changes are in store on American highways. The two California utilities have created a series of web pages for owners of plug-in electric vehicles.

The move stems from a declaration about a year ago by the Edison Electric Institute to prepare for the potential power drain.

“At a time of mounting concern about climate change, U.S. energy security and unemployment, plug-in electric vehicles will help tame carbon emissions while reducing oil imports and creating jobs," said Tom Kuhn, institute president, in a statement. "We also are mindful of President Obama’s very ambitious challenge to put one million PEVs on the road by 2015.”

Other utilities in the industry association include Dominion, DTE Energy, Connecticut Light & Power, CenterPoint Energy and Hawaiian Electric Co. But for purposes of this post, I'll keep the emphasis on two: PG&E and SCE.

1. The SCE site addresses many of the potential issues consumers face when considering a completely new technology, that many say costs just 2 cents a mile. The utility advises consumers to fill out its "Plug-In Ready Checklist" to help prepare them for electrical needs, potential home electrical upgrades and introduce potential deals on off-peak electricity consumption.

On the site, utility officials discuss potential effects to electricity rates from increasing demand by consumers to recharge cars ("rates will be determined in large part by the California Public Utilities Commission") and to the electrical grid ("how customers charge their vehicles ... will become a significant factor in determining the impact.")

2. PG&E likewise offers consumers a plethora of information on its EV web page. It explained details like how 110-volt, 20-amp outlets take about eight hours to recharge a car or how a consumer could cut that to a "few hours or less" with a 240-volt, 40-amp system.

But officials also offered this nugget, answering a a major concern over recharging I've had with electric vehicles. "Ultimately, advances in battery and charger technology could enable charging in the time it takes to fill a gas tank. Because of the high voltage involved -- 480 volts or more, which can be expensive to install -- such rapid charging would likely be available only at sites serving multiple BEVs, such as fleet garages or retail charging stations."

That's a potential game changer. Power it up Captain. Launch photon torpedoes and shift all available energy to phasers.

Devolved into an original Star Trek episode briefly. But the concept is sound, and this electric car concept could catch on.

Photo: SCE's plug-in hybrid at AgTAC.