Because of big screen TVs and home computers, utilities are seeing another peak power problem evolve. Traditional peak power hours -- the time during the day when power demand shoots up -- run from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm, according to Andrew Tang, senior director, smart energy web, at Pacific Gas & Electric. Air conditioning begins to ramp up and people start heading for malls and home. On some unfortunate days, brownouts occur. But utilities are now seeing a second surge after the 7:00 pm drop in demand; it runs from about 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm, he said. That's when people head toward the electronic entertainment devices. (See: Atomization of the American family.) "It is so much a peak as it is a plateau," he said, adding that "8:00 pm is kind of a recent phenomenon." The 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm plateau is also "reasonably close" to the 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm peak. This new geographical monument on the daily power consumption curve, of course, is becoming a problem that utilities will have to solve. Providing power during the peak hours is already a costly proposition. Approximately 10 percent of the existing generating capacity only gets used about 50 hours a year: Most of the time, that expensive capital equipment sits idle waiting for a crisis. (Tang will also speak at our Greentech Innovations End-to-End Electricity conference taking place November 17 and 18.) Some of the efforts to fix this are already underway. Panasonic and other TV manufacturers are all working to reduce the power consumption in LCD and plasma TVs while Intel and the PC crew are cranking down computer power consumption. Sharp, in fact, showed off a 26-inch prototype LCD TV that consumes 40 watts of power and runs on solar panels at Ceatec in Tokyo recently. Utilities are also figuring out ways to deliver their own resources more effectively. In California, for instance, plug-in hybrid cars would allow PG&E to better deploy energy from wind farms. Wind blows at night here often. If demand doesn't exist, it gets dumped. If thousands or even millions of drivers had their cars plugged in, they could refuel on cheap power in the wee hours. Plug-in cars, however, could also create problems with peak power, he added. Most people will try to plug-in as soon as they get home or at work. Thus, the utility is working with companies to regulate charging time. You might plug in at 6:30 pm, but actual charging might not begin until after midnight. Tang remains a bit of a skeptic of using plug-ins to provide power to the grid during peak times. The grid simply wasn't designed to accommodate power delivery from millions of comparatively small batteries. To work effectively, parking structures will have to aggregate power from a number of car batteries and even then it will remain a challenge. And here's another issue with plug-in cars. Consumers will have a natural tendency to plug-in wherever they go to top-off their batteries. Car makers, though, are worried that the large number of charges that will inflict on a battery -- close to 1,000 times a year if you plug in at home and work -- will prematurely age the battery. "Car makers hate the concept" of cars feeding the grid, he said.