Saturday, August 26, 2006

Jump on the plug-in hybrid bandwagon

Adam Browning
Aug 25, 2006

Consider this an open invitation to get on the plug-in hybrid bandwagon. Plug-in hybrids, for those not in the know, are hybrids whose batteries can be recharged by the grid. By running in electric-only mode as much as possible, emissions are reduced and efficiencies gained.

The other week, I visited Prof. Andrew Frank at UC Davis, the popularly acclaimed father of the plug-in hybrid. Impressive stuff.

Among the many vehicles his students have built, he's got a Chevy Equinox -- a smallish SUV -- retrofitted with a 1.6L engine with a continuously variable drive transmission and a lithium ion battery pack that holds about 15 kWh of juice. It can go 60 miles on battery-only, and 100 mpg in all-day driving conditions. If you recharged every night, it could go across the country on one tank of gasoline (runs on e85). Performance? 320 horsepower, 0-60 in 6.5 seconds (vs 9.5 sec stock).

The benefits of plugging in are many.

It's cheaper. The electric engine converts the stored electrical energy to motive force with something like three times the efficiency of the conversion of oil energy to motive force. So, running in electric mode is approximately the equivalent of $1/gal gasoline.

It's cleaner. Just how much cleaner is a matter of dispute and geography, but assuming a grid mix based upon the average composition of U.S. generation, plug-in hybrids reduce carbon dioxide emissions roughly 40%, well to wheels. EPRI and NRDC are coming out with a definitive geo-specific study on the subject in the next few months.

That's a big deal. But as excited as I am about the grid's ability to green transportation, the potential addition of millions of batteries to the grid is a huge opportunity for renewable resources, like wind and solar, that suffer from intermittency and non-dispatchability.

Here's an NREL study (PDF) that estimates that plug-in vehicles, by providing reserve capacity, could double the amount of cost-effective wind projects.

Also interesting is the idea of two-way relationship where vehicles could feed electricity back into the grid (V2G in the parlance). More here.

And by the way? $%@! Ford.

We are fighting an interminable war for oil, scientists tell us we have a global warming apocalypse of our own making on our hands, and Ford's average fuel economy hasn't made much progress since the Model T. Meanwhile, a bunch of college kids in a garage that doubles as a basketball court -- and probably dance floor during homecoming -- make a 100 MPG car every semester. I say $%@! Ford for not even trying.

If you want to do something about it, I invite you to use this handy DIY packet developed by Plug-in-Partners, and be a part of the campaign to encourage car makers to bring these world-saving-mobiles to market. First step: get your town to pass a resolution supporting plug-in vehicles (check here for a list of cities already signed on).

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