Sometimes, it takes me a while to catch up. Very rarely does a paradigm shift without some firmly established entity benefiting, rarely is it one single entity, and very rarely are all of the entities blatantly obvious when the shift is first noticed.

That said, who stands to gain from so-called "plug-in" automobiles -- ones that drivers can recharge at home -- should have been much more obvious to me. This from is a good explanation of what finally tipped me off:

A new study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory looked at the impact that plug-in hybrids (and indirectly, electric cars) might have on the US electricity grid in the next few decades. They found that, as they say, timing is everything: If the cars were recharged after 10 P.M. there might not be a need for new power plants (in their 'high-demand' scenario, 8 new plants are required).

I mean, I realized that energy consumption at night is really low. Where I grew up, we had a hydro-dam-generator that the local utility used to brag could cover all of our town's energy needs during the night. I've also bumped into stories about people who sell their nighttime bandwidth because they're paying for the speed of the connection, not the number of bytes served, and at [their local] night they don't do much traffic.

Still, what I didn't realize was what plug-in car batteries do is move the energy demand for all of that battery-powered driving time (looks like about 20-40 miles per car with what they're making now) to the night, when power companies are vomiting unused generating capacity. To them, nighttime now means wasted resources and lost profits. Add plug-in autos and, without spending a dime on new construction, they have only to ramp up energy production and night and *boom*, they get a free, giant new market thanks to [ostensibly] the price of oil. (Ostensibly because of the price of oil? I mean, let's face it, if you think that "gas" via your electric outlet is going to be that much less expensive than fueling it with octane, you're crazy. Plug-ins are about shifting who gets the cash to power our cars, not about how much cash there is in the market. I hope I'm wrong, but on the consumer end, the motivation is going to be solely convenience. If you could get 100 miles per week stopping at the convenience store that is your home, you'd do it, right?)

The upshot is that once plug-ins happen on a widespread basis, until the grid does show serious strain, electricity prices should (ie, have no good reason short of profit not to) stay low. I wonder if they will. And when most folk plug in their cars at 6pm, watch out that these new energy consumers don't drive up the price of energy even more than it already has, lots like using corn for ethanol kicked hungry folk in the kneecaps. (Huh? Who'd've thought that ethanol could starve our citizens! Thanks, Congress.) Are we really all going to put light timers on the outlet so that the power only kicks in after 10pm?

I feel some legislation coming on.

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