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DCL

This post, part of a series we're running all about electric cars, was written by Kristen Hall-Geisler from HowStuffWorks.com.

On the heels of range anxiety ("What if my electric car runs out of power and I'm nowhere near an outlet?") arises a new fear: Grid anxiety. This is the worry that if everybody gets rid of their gasoline-powered cars and charges up their shiny new electric cars in garages across the land, the grid won't be able to handle it, there'll be a huge blackout, probably all over the city and you'll miss the Dancing with the Stars results show.

Fear not, fans of Tom Bergeron. The grid will be able to handle it, according to just about every study that's been done over the past few years. As the power grid stands right now, it can already handle millions of electric vehicles without bringing any further power plants online. Speaking of online, with advances in metrics and Internet connectivity for just about everything, utility companies and electric cars both will be able to better manage power in the near future, which means even more cars can plug in.

That's where something like a "smart grid" would help. Rather than merely recording how much power your home uses, the meter would be more like a hub that monitors your power usage and communicates that information to the utility company. It could warn you when power was at peak usage -- and therefore very expensive -- or when it was low and the utility company was offering a discount. For instance, if you were charging your Nissan LEAF and running your air conditioner in the middle of the afternoon, the smart grid could let you know, and you could decide to charge the car in the middle of the night, when it was cheaper and less likely to affect the grid as a whole.

At an August press conference in Portland, Ore., Mike Tinskey of Ford Motor Company said that his company is working with Portland General Electric (PGE), working with cities, utilities and consumers to make sure the grid is ready and buyers are educated. "We're not just throwing cars into the market," he said. The Ford Transit Connect delivery vehicle is set to be the first EV from Ford, with more to follow in the next few years.

For his part, at the same press conference, PGE president Jim Piro said that the utility has few concerns about adding cars to its grid, despite the fact that the Portland metro area has been an early adopter of greener vehicles. He did mention the one concern he has: A neighborhood full of older homes with smaller circuit breakers, "and everybody charges at 8:01 p.m." That would strain the grid -- and home owners' patience -- but that's just the kind of situation utilities and car makers are trying to head off with advanced technology and education.