As automakers work to put plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles on the road, utilities and others are trying to prepare for their arrival on the electric grid.

For example, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office and the Department of the Environment this week announced the city is seeking innovative projects to help it become electric-vehicle ready.

According to the request for information and statement of interest, San Francisco wants to become a leading market for new-generation electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids. The city plans to provide a fertile test ground for systems that support the use of electric vehicles.

Proposals are due Sept. 19. The city hopes the call for proposals will result in at least one pilot project or program.

Meanwhile, the Electric Transportation Engineering Corp., a subsidiary of ECOtality, on Tuesday launched a project with smart-grid company V2Green to evaluate fast charging for plug-in hybrids.

The project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, will demonstrate the company’s ability to charge a plug-in hybrid in 10 minutes and will analyze the viability of using hybrids’ batteries to supply energy back into a smart-metered electric-grid system, according to the announcement.

And the Electric Power Research Institute on Tuesday announced a partnership with General Motors Corp. and 34 utilities to make it easier for plug-in hybrid owners to charge their cars quickly (see Utilities Join GM to Promote Plug-In Hybrids).

More announcements and discussions about these issues are likely this week, as the Plug-In 2008 conference kicks off in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday.

But these projects aren’t the first to help pave for way for plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

In March, Ford Motor Co. announced a research partnership with EPRI to help integrate plug-in hybrids with the grid, and smart-grid company GridPoint in March said it had tested a “smart-charging” software platform for plug-in hybrids with utility Duke Energy Corp. (see Laying the Grid Groundwork for Plug-In Hybrids).

The Pacific Gas & Electric Co. demonstrated in April how electric vehicles could be used to supply homes and businesses with electricity.

And, the search giant’s philanthropic arm, in September said it plans to invest $10 million in plug-in hybrid and electric car technologies, including technologies to transfer electricity from cars to the grid (see Google Leaves Out Clean Diesel, Hydrogen and Director: Technology Can Solve Climate Change).

Still, plenty of challenges remain in figuring out how these vehicles will fit into the grid.

While Project Better Place plans to set up battery recharging and replacement stations, others have said that using higher-voltage outlets to speed the charging process makes more sense than replacing the batteries (see Electric-Car Firms Push Alternative to Project Better Place’s Idea). But fast-charging critics have said such stations could strain the grid more than regular electric outlets because they deliver more energy in less time.

Plug-in hybrid advocates have said the vehicles could be used as backup power for the grid, while others – including Neal Dikeman, a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners – have highlighted a number of obstacles, such as concerns about battery life and the widespread need for equipment to monitor and manage electric charging and discharging.