Ford has announced that it has developed an intelligent vehicle-to-grid communications and control system for its plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that 'talks' directly with the electric grid.

This new technology allows the vehicle operator to program when to recharge the vehicle, for how long and at what utility rate.

"Electric vehicles are an important element of our strategy for improving fuel economy and reducing CO2 emissions," said Bill Ford, Ford's executive chairman. "This vehicle-to-grid communication technology is an important step in the journey toward the widespread commercialisation of electric vehicles."

All 21 of Ford's fleet of plug-in hybrid Escapes eventually will be equipped with the vehicle-to-grid communications technology. The first of the specially equipped plug-in hybrids has been delivered to American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio. Ford's other utility partners' vehicles will also be equipped with the communications technology.

When plugged in, the battery systems of these specially equipped plug-in hybrids can communicate directly with the electrical grid via smart meters provided by utility companies through wireless networking. The owner uses the vehicle's touch screen navigation interface and Ford Work Solutions in-dash computer to choose when the vehicle should recharge, for how long and at what utility rate.

For example, a vehicle owner could choose to accept a charge only during off-peak hours between midnight and 6 am when electricity rates are cheaper, or when the grid is using only renewable energy such as wind or solar power.

"We are designing what plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles will be capable of in the future," said Greg Frenette, manager of Ford's Battery Electric Vehicle Applications. "Direct communication between vehicles and the grid can only be accomplished through collaboration between automakers and utility companies, which Ford and its partners are demonstrating with this technology."

"Broad commercialisation of electric transportation is not something a car company can achieve on its own," said Nancy Gioia, Ford director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies.

"Developing and producing the vehicles is just one part of the electric transportation equation. We are well on our way to delivering the vehicles, but for widespread adoption the infrastructure to support the technology needs to be in place and we need to ensure that the national electric grid can support increased electric demand."