Monday, February 26, 2007

Plug-in hybrids good for the grid, good for the driver, XCel Energy/NREL Study Finds reports on Xcel Energy's study (with the Dept of Energy NREL lab) on the potential effect of plug-in hybrids on the electrical grid and emissions.
Xcel Energy announced the results of a six-month study related to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and how an increase in their popularity may affect Colorado. The study found that PHEVs may result in a reduction of the overall expense of owning a vehicle and, with the help of smart-grid technologies, eliminate harmful vehicle emissions by up to 50 percent.
NREL’s program was able to simulate adding vehicles to the roads in large increments, under real driving conditions, simulating an increase in the market penetration of these vehicles. The study revealed that these cars, each equipped with a 9 kilowatt-hour battery, could reduce overall CO2 vehicles emissions by half. They could also save owners more than $450 in fuel costs each year compared to a traditional combustion engine vehicle.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hybrid Fans to Toyota: The Next Step is Plug-in Hybrids

This year Toyota makes its SUVs and trucks even larger. Toyota increasingly devotes precious energy contained in hybrid batteries charged with expensive gasoline to higher power output rather than efficiency. What do people actually want? Toyota's own "Question of the Month" in the Hybrid Synergy View Newsletter, asked.

Plug-in hybrids - 39%
Higher fuel economy - 37%
Alternative fuel hybrid - 18%
Higher power output - 6%

The desire of 94% would be fulfilled by a plug-in hybrid.

To Toyota's credit, they published the results. To it's discredit, they seem dedicated to being second and probably best with plug-ins.

(Hat Tip to Felix Kramer at the Electric Auto Association Annual Meeting in Palo Alto, CA this past Saturday.)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Bush and Begley Sitting in a Tree; Prez to Look Over Ed's Electric Pickup & A123 Plug-in Hybrid

The Detroit News reports that an all-electric pickup and a plug-in hybrid will pay a visit to the White House today. How Phoenix Motor Cars, which has been making the altfuel circuit with its AltairNano powered pickup, found itself on Bush's radar isn't clear. A123 Systems, a much larger company which is providing batteries to GM for possible use in the Vue and Volt, will be showing off a plug-in hybrid powered by its Lithium batteries. Will Bush get the first view of a plug-in Vue?

The story makes clear the Big Three are not involved in the meeting. Interestingly, the story veers off electricity and on to ethanol midway through. Detroit is both very close to corn country, and clearly would rather make flex-fuel internal combustion vehicles to beginning the transition to electricity. The Prez seems to get the commonsense value of the plug-in hybrid as the truely flexible vehicle - one you can plug "right into the wall" as he famously said last year.

Prius drops to 48mpg; How will 2008 Prius get 80mpg? Plug-in hybrid?

The National Center for Policy Analysis reports: CAR M.P.G. RATINGS GOING DOWN. The cars aren't actually getting worse mileage, but the government's new tests going into effect next year more accurately reflect real-world driving.

Fuel-saving gasoline-electric hybrid cars don't save as much fuel as thought, according to new government fuel-economy ratings available to the public for the first time.

The new ratings go into effect beginning with 2008 models, a few of which will soon be on sale. But now it's possible to tell what rating 2007 and older models would get using the 2008 standards.

Toyota's Prius, the best-known and best-selling gas-electric car in the United States, drops from a 60 mpg rating under the current system to 48 miles per gallon in the city under the 2008 testing procedure -- a 20 percent decline

Its highway mileage rating falls about 12 percent, to 45 mpg.

The Ford Escape hybrid, which uses a gasoline-electric drive system similar to Toyota's, goes down about 12 percent.
So how will the 08 Prius, rumored to get upward of 80 mpg achieve it? Can it be done without making the high-mileage leader a plug-in hybrid?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tesla to build new EV plant in New Mexico!

And GM keeps telling us the batteries aren't ready.

AP via the Detroit News
Albuquerque, N.M., to be site for electric car production

"New Mexico's biggest city will be home to an automobile assembly facility for Tesla Motors' all-electric, four-door, five-passenger sedan that will sell for at least $50,000."

"The $35 million facility on Albuquerque's west side will mean 400 new jobs, Gov. Bill Richardson said."

"The company plans to produce at least 10,000 cars a year at the Albuquerque plant, with the first cars scheduled to be ready in the fall of 2009. They would be able to travel 250 miles before being recharged, officials said."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Iran's Oil Woes; An Arab Electric Car?

Today the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports "Soaring Energy Use Puts Oil Squeeze on Iran."
Iran may start rationing gasoline as soon as next month, and its oil exports could dry up in as little as a decade. The stagnation of Iran's oil industry presents a potential crisis for the country and the global oil market.
Iran is one of the countries earning tons of cash on its oil exports, but its burgeoning population is using an increasing share of the nation's oil production. What it uses it can't sell. As we all know, Iran is investing in nuclear power to provide a larger chunk of its future energy requirements. I'd rather see attempts to harvest mideast sun, but there ain't no solar bomb, so geopolitics dictates their energy direction. Nuclear or solar, if Iranians won't consider electricty for cars, perhaps neighboring Arab states will.

A report out of tiny Abu Dhabi suggests some of the oil rich may be looking considering alternatives to oil for cars.
Khalid Abdullah Al Bu Ainnain, Chairman of Baynuna, told Gulf News in an interview that the group has signed a deal with a French company to export 10,000 electric cars.

"We are cooperating with the giant French group Dassault to produce an electric car which can operate on clean power with a speed of 160 km/h," he said.
Dassault has been dabbling in EVs for years via its Société de Véhicules Electriques. Prototypes are built and press releases appear every so often, but that's it. According to their website, "S.V.E....plans to put a vehicle on the market in 2007." That's clearly not happening.

But could a most unlikely alliance with Arabic enterprise result in actual electric cars being produced?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Senators Ask Who Killed the Electric Car?

Two Senators asked the question yesterday at the hearing on global warming convened by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). First, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) posed the question to a panel of industry leaders. PG&E's Peter Darbee, its president, CEO and chairman of the board, let the committee know that plug-in hybrid cars could play a huge role in lowering carbon emissions. And assured the Senators that the electric grid, as it is, could charge millions of cars today displacing millions of gallons of petroleum.

Sen. Boxer, clearly moved by the images in the film of flattened EV1s, suggested that a panel of auto execs appear before the committee to do some explaining. She suggested Sen. Sanders chair such a hearing. Can I reserve a front-row seat?

First step: Boxer and Sanders ought to sign on to the DRIVE Act (S.339), one piece of legislation pushed by Set America Free and plug-in car advocates, that begins to take electricity seriously as an alternative transportation fuel.

Welcome Rancher Dave

With the post below, Rancher Dave joins Plugs and Cars. RancherD along with his wife, Heather, are true heroes of the electric car movement. Read all about their effort to save their Ford RangerEV here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Brian Howey Get's it

I love it when someone outside our EV and hybrid world truly begins to understand the connections at play here. I also hope for his next column he finds out some more about the exciting things going on with Plugin-hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt and other pure EV's being announced and driven currently.

Read Brian Howey's entire article here, but below is the last comment that sort of sums things up.

"Now, watch Who Killed the Electric Car? the documentary about the zero emission EV1 that everyone from GM to the White House caved on and tell me if you think this generation of political leaders has served America well, or whether we'll be condemned to repeat the blunders of the past. I will follow up with another column"

Brian, we look forward to your next column. Give us or a buzz and someone can let you know about the latest things that are going on. The pressure is mounting on the industry... Finally... We hope :)

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Toyota Hybrid Breakthrough! One-mile EV Range Highlander Hybrid!

AutoBlogGreen has the details on the '08 Highlander, and it includes an EV mode! Now you will be able to move the car across the street for street cleaning days without using gasoline. Useful to be sure, but more a green merit badge on a $30,000+ SUV with real world mpg still under 30 than a significant environmental choice.

Mistakenly blaming the battery type (NiMH) for the meager all-electric performance, AutoBlogGreen remains as confused as most auto journalists about plugs and cars, plug-in hybrids, electric cars, and batteries. The 24 NiMH batteries in my Toyota RAV4 EV take the car 120 miles without gasoline. Toyota could deliver a plug-in hybrid highlander, get 20 miles all-electric and 75 mpg using NiMH today! Would a Lithium-ion battery be better? Theoretically, yes. But they don't have the hundreds of millions of miles of trouble-free real world experience as NiMH. That's why every hybrid on the road uses NiMH.

We recognize the need for cars that can use something other than petroleum for national security and environmental reasons. We need to be able to buy plug-in hybrids and electric cars now with the technology we have, not he technology we wish we had. We can't afford to wait for the perfect battery, any more than we can wait for the miracles required to make hydrogen and fuel cell technology viable.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Bush Budget: Plug-ins Hybrids, Not So Much

The Detroit News has the alternative fuel breakdown in the president's budget request, and it isn't pretty. Increases for hydrogen fuel cell research from $289 million in FY 2007 to $309 million in FY 2008. "Automakers already have begun lobbying for the Bush Administration and Congress to support further research funding after the $1.2 billion program expires next year." I guess that wasn't enough to actually make a marketable, economic car. (Could of had 28,571 RAV4 EVs @$42,000 for the same $1.2 billion.)

The automakers wanted a new $500 million pot for battery research. Bush proposes $81 million, which includes $17 million for plug-in hybrid battery grants.

Honestly, much as I want the federal and state efforts to move toward batteries and electricity, we don't really need pure "research." We need cars. Plug-in hybrids and electric cars built with the best possible, most economic, available-now technology. I say take the proposed $390 million in Bush's budget, and give 75,000 people a $5000 grant for the purchase of a plug-in hybrid or electric car. And use the $15 million left over to educate Americans on why it is in their personal and the national security interest to buy a plug-in car.

Enough fooling around already with fuel cell fantasies such as the three profiled in AutoBlogGreen's recent post on Ford's FC concept cars. The downsides of fuel cell technology is evident in this straight forward, sympathetic reporting on these concept cars. Regarding the FC Focus and FC Explorer: "key-on, wait 15 seconds for the stack to power up, put it in drive and off you go." $1.2 billion of our money and you wait 15 seconds? Alas, they've found way around that problem with the Edge. "Because the FC Edge runs primarily off the battery, as long as there is some charge, there is no waiting." (Wow! Just like my Ford Th!nk City confiscated in 2004! ) Another shortcoming I really don't understand: The FC Edge "doesn't maximize the amount of regen available, [but] it does eliminate the problem of blending regen with friction braking." (My 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV blends regen and friction just fine, thank you. As did most if not all of the electric cars produced in the '90s.)

With all sorts of fuel cell double-talk and hydrogen hype, our policies and tax dollars have been led astray and flushed away. But technology ultimately brings us back to what is actually possible, out of what Toyota FC guru Bill Reinert calls "Disneyland" in the film Who Killed the Electric Car? The attempt to make fuel cells viable so energy companies have a fuel to sell passes through batteries. Sooner or later, maybe a journalist covering the auto beat will ask why we don't just cut out the middle man and let folks plug in.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Why Not Ethanol? Yet Another Reason

The case for ethanol, if not the funding, is wilting on the vine. Scientific American points out the problems in "Is Ethanol for the Long Haul?" in the January issue. And Consumer Reports looks at ethanol's real world shortcomings in "The Ethanol Myth."

An OpEd in today 's NY Times "Praying at the Pump," highlights yet another chink in the case for ethanol. Simply put, markets. Global markets. And I'm not just talking about the price of tortillas in Mexico City. (See my Tortillas and Ethanol post.)

Ronald E. Minsk argues that the economic problem of petroleum isn't so much dependency on foreign sources as vulnerability to price fluctuations. He points out that the market for liquid fuels for transportation is global, source doesn't determine price, and that any substitute liquid fuel will be priced in the context of petroleum.
the percentage of oil we import is relatively unimportant. Even the use of alternative liquid fuel instead of oil-derived gasoline will not allow us to escape this volatility, because as direct substitutes for each other, gasoline and alternative fuels will be similarly priced, just as gasoline sold by different oil companies or at different gas stations is similarly priced today.

Minsk mentions plug-in hybrids could help temper price volatility "in the short term... allow[ing] consumers to choose day to day whether to power their cars with oil or with the sources their utilities use." And notes that "if we cannot find a way to increase production and inoculate ourselves from oil-supply interruptions, we are either going to have to develop cars that need no oil, or learn to live with the risks of the global market."

As a lawyer for electric utilities, the solution to the market dilemma of liquid fuels is right under his nose. Think bigger. Plug-in cars aren't a stop-gap on the road to some prayed for price-stable liquid fuel.
There are many paths to take as we seek to improve our energy security, but all should be based on one principle: real security can come only through finding a way to keep prices stable.
Truly there is no better way than to use a fuel that comes with a different set of governing rules. Electricity markets have had their own issues, for sure. But the market is national and there's a hell of a lot more regulation. The electric utilities need to make the case for electricity in cars. The fact that electricity pricing is not connected to world liquid fuel prices is one more arrow in their quivver.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Exxon is #1!

NY Times reports:
Exxon’s profit rose 9 percent from 2005 results to a record of $39.5 billion, the largest annual profit ever for an American company.

Th!nk Resumes Production

The Norway Post reports that Th!nk Global will manufacture 500 Th!nk City electric cars in 2007, with production beginning in summer. No specifics about the battery type. The article states, "The new "Think" model will have improved batteries with a range of 180 km (111 miles) between charges and a top speed of around 100 km 60 mph)."

As for the supposed lack of demand for electric cars, according to the Norway Post story:
At the moment it is impossible to buy a new el-powered car in Norway and several thousand prospective buyers are on a waiting list.

In Norway, el-powered cars are favoured with no road tax and no parking fees, free pssage on toll roads, as well as being allowed to use the public transport lane on roads.