Back in April, as IEEE Spectrum’s editors were putting the final touches on this issue, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City announced a sweeping urban development program, one of the city’s most ambitious ever. Such a high-profile press conference, decades ago, would have probably trumpeted a stupendous new bridge, a tunnel, or a mass-transit system. But on that warm Sunday afternoon, Bloomberg proposed a dizzying assortment of 127 different initiatives and regulations aimed at cutting the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions 30 per­cent by the year 2030.

Audacious as it was in scope, the plan didn’t really have anything new. Charging motorists to come into the city center during the day? London’s been doing it since 2003. Planting a million new trees? Adelaide, Australia, started doing that in 2002. Replacing dirty, decrepit, and ancient electric generators with shiny, new, and efficient ones? Since when did that count as a masterstroke?

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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