With the rolling blackouts hitting California and the ice and snowstorms pounding the Northeast, many of us are seriously thinking about buying a back-up power source for our homes in the event of a power outage. As much as we've all come to rely on a steady supply of electricity, we seem to be completely lost if we're without it for even a short period of time — especially if it happens right before the next episode of Survivor.

But hey, forget about buying that gasoline-powered generator at the local hardware store. If you live in California, they always seem to be out of stock anyway. As for that microturbine you've had your eye on, you can forget about it. Just go out and buy an electric car instead.

I know it doesn't make any sense, but hear me out. Imagine pulling into your garage after a hard day at work and connecting your vehicle's power plant to your home wiring system. Automatically, your car's portable power plant now supplies power to your entire home load. As an added benefit, it even pumps some excess power back into the utility grid, which the utility eventually pays you for!

Sound crazy? Not according to scientists at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Palo Alto, Calif. They believe electric vehicles may one day generate enough electricity to reduce the requirement for global central station generation capacity by up to 20% by the year 2050. These fuel-cell-powered hybrid cars would be powered with hydrogen or a hydrocarbon fuel such as gasoline. These vehicles also can significantly reduce carbon emissions and reduce our dependence on oil and gas reserves.

But the big question is will anyone be interested enough to use this technology? According to a new national survey from RKS Research & Consulting, Santa Clara, Calif., titled Distributed Generation 2000 Business Customer Assessment, we will. Analysts say the rising cost of electricity, concerns with the reliability of America's transmission system, and the fallout from electricity deregulation are causing American businesses to look for alternative power sources.

The report states “that more than a third of businesses surveyed (34%) express interest in generating their own electricity, either to replace or supplement the supply of power delivered by the current energy provider. Three quarters of these same companies say their need for steady and reliable power supply is more important today than ever before.”

The report goes on to say that “half of the businesses surveyed (51%) believe that self-generation is the best strategy for meeting their growing electricity needs. By contrast, energy conservation programs and new power plant construction are favored by less than 25% of the companies surveyed.”

However, the survey respondents also expressed a clear preference for outsourced generation solutions over buying or leasing their own equipment. Hey suppliers and service providers, are you paying attention to this important finding?

As each and every one of us becomes more dependent on electricity, we must support the development of new technologies to satisfy our insatiable appetite for power. If we don't, we may all soon find ourselves learning to cope with electricity restrictions or rolling blackouts on a regular basis. So don't be surprised if one day you see me driving home from work in my electric car with a big smile on my face — knowing I won't miss my favorite TV show due to a lack of electricity.

Editor's Note:

For the last three years, “The Drives Corner” column in this magazine has covered many issues related to adjustable-speed drives. Much of the discussion centered on drive ride-through and drive susceptibility to voltage variations. While these issues are extremely important to drive manufacturers and end-users of drives, we see a larger need to address a variety of issues that relate to all types of end-use equipment. For this reason, we've decided to change the title of this column to “Applications Corner.” This allows us to broaden our editorial coverage in a variety of market segments and present practical case studies outlining real-life problems and solutions to everyday power quality issues. The situations presented in these case studies will arm you with the information you need to immediately improve the quality of power at your facility. Check out this month's column on “Resolving Voltage Problems with AC Induction Motors,” starting on page 41.