It’s interesting to chart the growing sales of hybrids and other clean vehicles today. What’s really enlightening, though, is to understand how these vehicles are being used and what their implications are for our driving future.

That’s where cutting-edge demonstration projects like Austin’s Pecan Street bring great value to urban and transportation planners, by providing a real-life example of how far we can take sustainable, low-, or no-carbon transportation and daily living with currently available technology.

Austin’s Pecan Street, Inc, the country’s first non-profit research and development consortia focused on energy, wireless, and consumer electronics technology, recently joined with GM subsidiary OnStar to collect and analyze real-world energy consumption through driving and charging data patterns. Thanks to the GM/OnStar partnership, the Pecan Street project now includes the Chevy Volt for gaining critical real-life usage data for the use and charging of extended-range electric vehicles. Chevrolet made 100 Volts available for priority purchase to residents participating in the project last September.

Among the grid-relieving solutions developed by OnStar are charging with renewable energy, energy demand response, time-of-use-rates, and home energy management. The partnership with Pecan Street is enabling OnStar to test these smart grid services in realistic, everyday scenarios. Additional partner companies like Sony, Whirlpool, Oncor, and Intel are also providing residents with smart grid and clean energy products and services, such as photovoltaic panels for generating power, batteries to store energy, and smart grid tools to help make everything work in unison.

The final goal of the project is to help consumers make the best possible use of energy for daily life, and specifically for charging their plug-in hybrids and other electric vehicles. The hope is that research resulting from the project will help speed up the innovation cycle around smart grid and consumer electronics technology. This is important since electric vehicles add significantly to a home’s energy profile. Understanding how, and when, consumers use their electric vehicles and keep them charged is critical information.