Ford announced today that it has developed a smart vehicle-to-grid system for its plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that communicates directly with the electric grid.

The new technology allows a car's owner to programme when to recharge the vehicle, for how long and at what rate.

The first of the specially equipped plug-in hybrids has already been delivered to a customer and Ford expects its entire fleet of plug-in hybrid Escapes (just 21 strong at the moment) to eventually be equipped with the system.

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When plugged in, the battery systems of the new plug-in hybrids use wireless networking to communicate directly with the electrical grid via smart meters provided by power companies. The owner uses the vehicle's touch screen navigation interface and in-dash computer to choose when the vehicle's charging profile.

For example, you could choose to accept a charge only during off-peak hours at night when electricity rates can be cheaper, or only when the grid is using renewable energy such as wind or solar power.

"We are designing what plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles will be capable of in the future," said Greg Frenette, manager of Ford's Battery Electric Vehicle Applications. "Direct communication between vehicles and the grid can only be accomplished through collaboration between automakers and utility companies, which Ford and its partners are demonstrating with this technology."

Ford plans to invest nearly £8.5 billion in advanced technology vehicles in the next seven years, bringing the Transit Connect battery electric vehicle to market in Europe in 2010, followed by an all-electric Ford Focus car in 2011.