For at least a couple of years now there’s been talk about what to do with battery packs after they’ve served their useful life, say, 10 years, in an electric car. The reason being that the batteries, while they may lose their punch after a decade of use in a car, still have useful storage capacity that collectively can be used for other applications: i.e. storing renewable energy like wind and solar; helping manage grid load; offering back-up power supply for remote communities; and allowing industrial/commercial users to play arbitrage with time-of-use pricing by storing power when it’s cheap and dispatching it went it’s expensive. Today ABB, the world’s largest supplier of power grid systems, announced a partnership with General Motors that will seek to study these “after-Volt” market uses for batteries. “The Volt’s battery will have significant capacity to store electrical energy, even after its automotive life,” said Micky Bly, GM’s executive director of electrical systems, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries. “That’s why we’re joining forces with ABB to find ways to enable the Volt batteries to provide environmental benefits that stretch far beyond the highway.”

It’s the kind of collaboration that Gil Forer, global cleantech leader at Ernst & Young, urged during an executive roundtable held in Montreal last week. “Forging creative partnerships and business models will be critical for sustainable, long-term success,” he said. This was echoed by his colleague Mike Hanley, who heads up Ernst & Young’s global automotive group. He said there’s a big EV transition underway, but “to facilitate this transition the traditional automotive industry, new automotive market entrants, utilities, regulators and government agencies must collaborate effectively to take advantage of the opportunities and to make the entire consumer experience seamless.”

They offered some interesting numbers: in 2010 we’ll see the mass-market introduction of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, and the introduction of China’s largest EV charging station. Between 2010 and 2013 they expect to see more than a dozen battery-electric vehicles hit the market from incumbents such as Ford, Mitsubishi and Renault and new entrants including Tesla, BYD and Coda Automotive.

For the latest research on plug-in vehicle sales forecasts to 2015, click here. For a look at what researchers in California are doing with afterlife batteries, click here.

Sarwant Singh, vice-president of Frost and Sullivan’s automotive practice, forecasts that by 2020 hybrid and purely electric vehicles will account for seven to 12 per cent of all cars produced globally. Who would supply the market? He figures there will be 47 different automakers with electric models by 2015 and that models on the market will total about 75. What’s stunning is that 35 of those models, or 47 per cent, are expected to come from Chinese manufacturers. Singh has a great presentation here that gives a detailed overview of the market. It’s a year old now but still very relevant.