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Article first published as Electric Cars, Renewable Energy, and the Smart Grid - A Powerful Partnership on Technorati. While the costs of producing renewable energy are more than some people might imagine, those costs tend to be more frontloaded in the expense of manufacturing, transporting and installing the equipment, such as massive wind turbines. For example, if the wind quickly intensifies, the amount of electricity generated by the wind turbines rapidly increases, injecting excess energy into the power grid.
What is needed is an efficient, inexpensive way of storing the electricity produced by wind and solar plants so that electricity can be stored when production is high and released when production is low. Enter the electric vehicle and an industrial-sized example of one mana€™s trash being another mana€™s treasure. The lithium ion batteries that power electric cars lose a small percentage of their capacity to store electricity over time, and eventually will need to be replaced in the vehicle with a new battery.
It may be surprising to hear that once one of these batteries has reached the end of its useful life in the vehicle, it still has around 75 percent of its original storage capacity remaining, and it will continue to hold a charge for many years to come.
And, thus, you have an industry with millions of electricity storage devices that need to be disposed of, recycled, or repurposed, while at the same time you have an industry hungry for a cheap way to store electricity.
If price is your sole concern, the smart ED is the most frugal option with a sprinkle of fun thrown in for good measure. I’m going to assume at this point you’ve seen the syrupy sweet and sickeningly cute gasoline-powered smart Fortwo bouncing around your town. If you thought the little gas burner was adorable, then meet the quiet, emissionless 2013 smart Electric Drive (ED). Despite its electric powertrain, the smart ED feels, for the most part, like a “normal” car. The all-electric ED (stop snickering) retains the same darling proportions, but replaces the gasoline engine with an electric motor powered by a 17.6 kilowatt-hour (kWH) lithium-ion battery pack.
That might not sound like much, especially when taking into account the ED’s small frame, but according to smart, over 100 million people drive solo to work every day, with a whopping 80 percent of those commutes totaling less than 40 miles round-trip.
Lined up in neat row outside San Francisco’s Zeta Hotel, my eyes darted from smart to smart, quickly settling on the first red model I saw. The smart ED might rock a complicated electric powertrain, but inside it’s a different story. Once primed and strapped in, it was time to drop the top and let the sun’s rays beat down into the cabin.
Having never driven in downtown San Francisco, the amount of traffic on a Tuesday afternoon was initially a little overwhelming. In a normal (read: larger) car, driving in traffic is a horrid affair, especially in the crowded cities that smarts were bred for. I hear the term “go-kart” a lot to describe the smart ED’s handling dynamics, but despite becoming cliche, that’s the best way to label it. Of course, with 47 horsepower and 96 pound-feet of torque (that’s more than the gasoline-powered Fortwo mind you), the smart ED isn’t exactly Seabiscuit out of the gate. While San Francisco’s tight streets made a natural fit for the ED, I was skeptical that the little motor could tackle the city’s famously steep hills.
Sadly, it wasn’t long after I was whizzing by the Golden Gate Bridge, that I noticed my foot starting to cramp up. I’m not sure how much of an improvement paddle shifters would make, but just like the accelerator pedal, pressing down on the brake felt  uncomfortable, albeit a smidge more forgiving.
The saving grace here is that the ED’s regenerative braking system, which recaptures lost energy and zaps it back into the battery, is tuned rather aggressively.
Frankly, the ED’s throttle and braking calibration is just too stiff, so I’m hoping smart can cure this problem for next year’s model so that these issues don’t continue to tarnish an otherwise enjoyable experience. That description became even more apt as I approached San Francisco’s snaking Lombard Street.

Thanks to the car’s already hunched stance and low-slung battery packs, I was able whip around corners with a degree of reckless abandon.
But while it handles well enough but the tiny wheelbase of the smart ED meant that I felt every bump and blemish in the road. I wasn’t exactly concerned with range levels during my press drive, but smart makes it easy to monitor your energy use with two sporty-looking performance gauges perched atop the dash. Regrettably, the duration of my test drive prevented me from juicing up the ED myself, but smart says a full charge takes about 6 hours when using a 240-volt charging station. Performance and range issue aside, at $25,000 for the Coupe version, and $28,000 for the Cabriolet (before federal and local incentives) the 2013 smart Electric Drive is the cheapest EV on the market. Smart’s recently announced Battery Assurance Plus program also allows you to rent the ED’s battery, guaranteeing its performance for 10 years.
As with most EVs, it will get you from A to B with ease, assuming A and B aren’t too far from each other. Ultimately, the price of the smart ED alone makes it a compelling choice, but there are more practical and refined options you should explore, like the Honda Fit EV, Chevy Spark EV and Fiat 500e. When compared to fossil fuel burning energy sources, they have a significantly lower carbon footprint. As a result, grid operators quickly a€?ramp downa€? the power generation from other sources in order to prevent the system, which can only accommodate a finite amount of electricity, from collapsing.
The cost of oil, natural gas and coal is on the rise, and ita€™s having a direct impact on the cost of electricity for our homes and businesses. With the extra money you saved us we were able to lease another delivery truck and hire an additional driver.
If not, let me get you up to speed: it’s a super-compact car aimed at people looking to mostly cart themselves around the city, making it fuel-efficient, maneuverable and surprisingly enjoyable to drive.
With a $25,000 base price, it’s both the cheapest EV on the market and the only one to offer a convertible cabriolet option. Smart says the ED’s battery is capable of netting 122 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent), with a total range of 76 miles in the city and 59 miles on the highway.
The smart ED is available as a coupe or cabriolet in practically any color combination your creative mind can think of.
Getting the car to move is as simple as placing the shifter in “D” and stepping on the accelerator.
I’m not particularly tall but I have broad shoulders, and I never felt the cabin was going to cave in on me. A small button located near the console lowers and raises the cabrio’s soft top, leaving the pillars and roof rails in place.
With larger cars swarming around me like bees on honey, it took a moment for me to realize that I wasn’t in an average-sized car. Thanks to its zippy acceleration and diminutive size, I had no trouble bobbing and weaving in and out of traffic like a motorized Muhammad Ali. But with its low curb weight of 2,000 pounds, it could beat my grandma in a foot race, and easily scoots into gaps where Impalas and Accords dare not tread.
But even at a complete stop, with the car’s nose pointed towards the heavens, I was able to give the EV some juice and launch upward with ease.
My major gripe with the ED was how firm the accelerator felt the moment I placed my foot down. Letting off the brake brings it to a slow crawl, switching on the regenerative braking system. By lifting my foot off the accelerator, and timing it just right, I was able to bring myself to a complete stop a number of times nearly sans brake pedal action and save myself a trip to drug store for a tube of Bengay.
Here, I managed to resist the urge to do my best impression of Steve McQueen in Bullitt, and instead tackled the road with a greater degree of value for human life, all the while impressed by how well the car zigs and zags through tight spaces.

I might be exaggerating a bit, but if you live in a city with roads in need of some serious work, prepare to take more notice and maybe even start writing that letter to your local representative.
One indicates total battery level, while the other indicates how hard you’re taxing (or replenishing) the battery. Smart was adamant to point out that that figure is for a completely depleted battery, which in real-world driving situations will probably never happen. It costs $80 a month to enroll, but smart will cut the price of the car by $5,000 if you opt in. And it’s one of the few cars that actually managed to soothe my stress levels during congested city driving. But if price is your sole concern, the smart ED is the most frugal option with a sprinkle of fun thrown in for good measure. Since wind and sunshine are free and readily available domestically, it's logical to pursue an increased reliance on renewable energy production.
One of the significant drawbacks of renewable energy is the unpredictability and inconsistency of output.
Likewise, a sudden and dramatic decrease in the wind can force the grid operators to quickly a€?ramp upa€? power supply by bringing extra generators online a€” and they only have a matter of minutes to complete this maneuver. For example, the price of electricity in Dallas, Texas has rising 8% since the start of the year, and electricity rates in Houston are up 10 percent.
I took it for a spin in San Francisco – exactly the sort of city it was designed for – to find out. But it seemed fate was pulling me toward the devilish luster of the Rally Red Cabrio that day. However, I was left scratching my head for a minute looking for the ill-placed ignition, which is located just behind the shifter. Both the pillar and roof rails are completely removable and can be tossed in the trunk, but I figured “why bother?” and just left them up.
The smart ED even sports a handy hill-assist feature that kept me from barreling backwards into the Painted Ladies.
I suppose the majority of people won’t find this to be as annoying, considering the car’s intended range and purpose, but I did.
Smart also offers a version of the Fortwo ED with steering-wheel paddle shifters that allows you to increase and decrease the level of regenerative braking, but the car I drove didn’t have that option.
The assisted rack and pinion electric steering, however, feels too meaty at higher speeds but softens up considerably at lower speeds, greatly improving maneuverability.
Mashing on the pedal pushed the needle on this gauge into the red, indicating I was using 100 percent of the battery power, while braking or driving downhill moved the needle into the “charge” zone, letting me know electrons were trickling back in. Do the math and that knocks the Coupe and Cabriolet down to $20,000 and $23,000 before government incentives, which will shave off at least another $7,500, and more depending on which state you live in.
But the ED’s limited range won’ t be whisking you off to the mountains for that long-overdue weekend getaway, nor will it ferry to and fro with more than a few bags of groceries, especially if you’ve got a co-pilot. The fact that it was a clear and sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky meant the Cabrio was the perfect choice. You can make longer term estimates based on geography and seasonality, but hour by hour, day by day ita€™s unpredictable.

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