ROSEMEAD, CA – Southern California Edison (SCE), a California utility that provides power to 13 million, is spending upwards of $5 million a year acquiring and maintaining its electric vehicle fleet, testing new plug-ins, and researching battery capabilities, according to USA Today.

As part of its program, SCE operates a fleet of 300 electric vehicles, most of which are Toyota RAV4s. The goal is to become familiar with the capabilities of the cars, how they will be used and recharged, and to try to make the conversion as seamless as possible. The company is among the California utilities looking to upgrade the more than 1,000 public charging locations, installed from airports to shopping centers, left over from the last time the state attempted to make a go of electric transportation.

Utility officials are convinced battery technology in the coming wave of electric cars could hold the key to solving a problem that has long bedeviled them: the inability to store all the electrons they produce.

SCE and other major California utilities are being required by state regulators to boost the power it receives from renewable sources to 20 percent by next year. Right now, 16 percent of SCE's power is from renewables, most of it from geothermal sources, according to Ted Craver, CEO of Edison International, SoCal Edison's parent, as reported by USA Today.

A big component of Edison's electric car program is researching the capabilities of automotive batteries with an eye toward developing units to store energy and use them to power individual businesses or homes, or clusters of them.

SoCal Edison runs prototype electric vehicles through their paces at its test facility in Pomona, a few miles east of headquarters. Ford chose SoCal Edison as a testing partner in 2007 for its experimental plug-in hybrid Escape SUVs. It recently announced the addition of seven other utilities to the program, with a goal to have a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle on the market by 2012.

Other makers contribute models for testing, such as a new Mitsubishi iMiEV subcompact and a Daimler plug-in hybrid van undergoing evaluation. SCE and other utilities are also working with General Motors on its Chevy Volt plug-in electric, scheduled to hit roads next year, according to company officials as reported by USA Today.

As for the long term, mechanics work on the fleet of RAV4s that have collectively logged more than 17 million miles since 1999. Today, the fleet achieves 120,000 miles a month.