Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Smart grid will enable more electric cars, U-M expert says

Smart power systems that allow for groups of electric vehicles to be recharged efficiently overnight are key to making electric-powered cars a reality, Jeffrey Stein, associate director of the Automotive Research Center and professor of mechanical engineering, told a Washington, D.C. audience Wednesday.

Jeffrey Stein addresses a Washington, D.C., audience about the future of electric vehicles. (Photo by Mike Waring, Washington Office)  

At a briefing on Capitol Hill, Stein said electric vehicles can displace the use of petroleum for current autos and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But having an electricity system that can maximize recharging of most vehicles overnight will greatly speed the process. The electric grid can be used more efficiently by having groups of vehicles spread out that process, he added.

Electric vehicles improve engine performance and fuel economy in several ways, including engine shutdown when idling, better braking, smaller engine sizes and running at maximum efficiency.

In a manner similar to how the iPad bridges the gap between smaller handheld digital devices and laptop computers, we may someday see various kinds of cars for various uses, Stein said.

"The car you use to run around your neighborhood doing errands would not be the same vehicle you take on a long vacation," he told the audience of congressional aides, science society representatives and other attendees.


To help achieve the positive benefits of electric vehicles, Stein said the country needs "innovative policies that recognize the enormous potential of electrification," but he warned that such a system is not a "silver bullet" to solving the country's carbon-emission problems.

Stein was joined by Genevieve Cullen of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, which represents various companies involved in making electric vehicles or technologies. The program was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, IEEE-USA, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Discover Magazine.