Freedom and Power. We Love Our Freedom to Go Where We Want, When We Want. And if we can feel the flush of power when we put the pedal down, so much the better.

I found myself at the wheel of a high-torque, rapidly accelerating machine, gliding in and out of traffic on Harbor Drive in San Diego, California, U.S. But for those of you who love the sound of a rumbling engine, this vehicle is not for you. Instead of a souped-up Firebird, I was behind the wheel of a grid-ready plug-in electric vehicle (PEV).

The ride was eerily quiet as the electric motors make essentially no noise, not even a whine; overall a quite pleasing driving experience. This battery on wheels requires no gas backup, and with regenerative braking, it can travel 120 to 150 miles (193 to 241 km/h) on a charge. It has the oomph to accelerate from zero to 60 mph (95 km/h) in seven seconds with a top speed of 95 mph (153 km/h). Existing lithium-ion technology enables this vehicle to travel on the order of 50,000 miles (80,467 km) before the batteries need changing out. The vehicle is a Toyota Scion retrofitted by AC Propulsion out of San Dimas, California, the same company that outfits Mini Coopers. The vehicle I was driving charges in two hours using a 240-V outlet or overnight on 110 V. So, for those of you who hear that the PEV is years out, I am “moving” proof it is not.

Prof. Willett Kempton with the University of Delaware is the brain behind the vehicle. He is a pioneer of the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) concept and has been involved in developing the technology for more than a decade. Kempton showed me around the prototype propulsion and charging system housed in a street-ready frame.

Paul Heitmann, V2G specialist with Comverge, is working with Geoff Sommer (AC Propulsions) to assure that the vehicle seamlessly connects to the grid. Heitmann demonstrated the Scion discharging electricity back into the grid, replete with a Landis+Gyr meter.

Acting FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff is quite plugged into the electric hybrid car movement. He even has a term for PHEVs. He calls them “cash-back” vehicles. And it makes sense. As we develop time-of-day rates that enable us to charge our vehicles inexpensively at night and discharge back into the grid at higher rates, we can reduce the effective owning costs. And if we ditch the backup gas-fired engine, we can add additional batteries for longer driving distances.

I had a chance to chat with Wellinghoff at lunch after his keynote speech at the PHEV Summit, jointly sponsored by my friends Terry Boston with PJM and Arshad Mansour with EPRI. Wellinghoff is committed to supporting the development of smart charging infrastructure.

Of course, we also need more utilities to build in the rates that will enable the EV to become an economically viable form of transportation. And we need to develop a robust platform for bidirectional data exchange between vehicle and grid. The Obama-proposed stimulus bill would set aside nearly US$11 billion in smart grid investments that will enable us to tap into emerging technologies to enable us to reduce our dependence on coal and oil.

Ed Kjaer, director of electric transportation with Southern California Edison, sees us moving toward a day where our electric vehicles will take on an integral role within our energy system, but cautions that we must focus on developing domestic supplies of advanced batteries for our EV fleets.

Lets get our act in gear. Unless our utilities, regulators and customers are on board, we will find our transportation future constrained by the inevitable return of high gas prices.