Tallahassee, Florida - Rising gas prices are fueling an increase in sales of electric cars and Florida wants to be ready to meet the demands of this expanding fleet.
The latest sales figures show Americans bought about 50,000 electric hybrid vehicles last month. That was nearly a 100 percent increase compared to a year ago.
Now Florida is taking steps to prepare for a future in which drivers plug in their cars to fuel up.
On Thursday, the Florida Public Service Commission started investigating the potential effect of electric vehicle charging stations on the state's electric grid. As the number of charging stations continues to increase, state leaders want to make sure the grid can handle the load.
The commission is also studying the feasibility of solar-powered charging stations. It's a fascinating idea based on building a system that allows drivers to pull over and charge up as they travel.
"A convenience store may have a gasoline station and also a charging station for electric vehicles and that may require a quick-charge station. Whereas at home you would just plug in and it would take a little longer to charge the batteries of the vehicle," said Mark Futrell of Florida's Office of Industry Development and Market Analysis.
Futrell says solar charging stations would have to be backed up by the electric grid.
"During the daytime hours that would be a potential but solar is a variable resource. When the sun is shining it's an emission-free and free fuel source but it has to be backed up by the electric system for the times when it's cloudy or at night as well."
Futrell says right now Florida's electric grid can handle the growing number of electric vehicles and charging stations.
But he says if there's a rapid increase in electric cars, especially in certain neighborhoods, then utilities will have to expand their capacity and charge appropriate rates.
"It depends upon how quickly consumers begin to buy these vehicles. If we see a rapid increase there may be some impacts at the local level. For example in your neighborhood, maybe there's a transformer in your neighborhood and if there's a growth of electric vehicles in a neighborhood, that piece of equipment may have to be increased in its capacity."
The commission will study the issue in the coming months and prepare a report for the governor and Legislature by the end of the year.