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Plugging the Plug-In Hybrid
by Jack Rosebro
18 November 2005

CAPTION: Plugin_demo: Pete Nortman, President of EnergyCS, showing his PHEV Prius to symposium participants

The "Public Power Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) Symposium" wrapped up Friday in Los Angeles, where more than fifty key public power leaders from across the nation had convened at City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power headquarters.

The symposium was co-sponsored by the American Public Power Association (APPA), a nationwide consortium of state and municipal public utilities, joint action agencies, and service providers to the public electric power industry; and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-profit research organization funded by more than 100 energy-industry companies in North America and worldwide.

Participants were briefed on the current state of plug-in hybrid technology, and reviewed PHEV initiatives at all government levels. They also discussed the technology's potential effect on-and benefit to-the electric power industry, and the increasingly likely convergence of the electric power and transportation industries.

Some highlights of the two-day symposium:

  • Mark Duvall, Manager of Technology Development for EPRI, made one of many business cases for plug-in hybrids, and gave an update on the PHEV pilot program co-sponsored by EPRI, Southern California Edison (SCE), and DaimlerChrysler, which is producing six Dodge Sprinter PHEV delivery vans for evaluation.

Duvall argued that express delivery vans, with their rapid acceleration and braking cycles, are ideal for PHEV technology. The first Sprinter PHEV vans are now being tested around the clock on the streets of Stuttgart. Phase II of the collaborative pilot program will produce 30 PHEV Sprinters, built and validated as close to mass production levels as possible.

Duvall called for more collaborative PHEV demonstration programs, especially between utility companies and vehicle manufacturers. He noted that with light-duty vehicle fuel consumption projected to increase by 62% by 2025, every American-absent passenger car PHEVs in the market-would have to drive the Prius equivalent of their current vehicle to keep national LDV fuel consumption at current levels.

  • Roger Duncan, Deputy General Manager of Distributed Services at Austin Energy in Austin, Texas, described his city's plug-in campaign, which is widely viewed as the most aggressive pro-plug in hybrid campaign of any municipality in the country. Austin's City Council has voted to support plug-ins, and Austin Energy has promised $1 million in rebates to cover the cost difference between plug-ins and conventional hybrids. (Earlier post.)
  • Noting that "we have a vehicle fueling station in this room, and in every room in this building," Duncan offered that in his experience, it is not hard to convince non-technical people that plug-in hybrids are a promising technology. "When you explain it, they get it," he said. Duncan would like to see flex-fuel plug-ins on the market as soon as possible.

    He allowed that in the past, detractors had worried that a plug-in hybrid which got its current from relatively "dirty" electrical grids would produce more emissions and greenhouse gases than a conventional hybrid, but that many recent studies had countered that concern.

    That debate is currently in resolution.

    CAPTION: Plug_in_partners logo

    Other speakers at the symposium echoed that sentiment, as well.

    Duncan also announced that his city's original write-in campaign in support of plug-ins, which had already expanded its goal to signing on the fifty largest cities in the United States, would expand further to a national level in response to an outpouring of interest.

    The Plug-In Partners National Campaign will be formally announced in Washington, D.C. on January 24, 2006, and Duncan hopes to get as many partners on board as possible before that date.

  • Greg Hanssen of EnergyCS described his company's progress with its conversion of Toyota Prius vehicles to plug-in hybrids. EnergyCS will be wrapping up a 90-day, 10-vehicle early-adopter durability test by the end of the year, and has set a target of 200 commercial conversions in 2006. (Earlier post.)
  • Hanssen affirmed that his company is still committed to the conversion's original price target of $12,000-"maybe lower"-and hoped to offer a plug-in conversion of the Ford Escape hybrid by the end of 2006. The conversions would be carried out by eDrive and CleanTech, two companies affiliated with EnergyCS.

  • Anne Korin, co-chair of the Institute for the Advancement of Global Security (IAGS), as well as the Set America Free Coalition, made an impassioned presentation on the immediate need to tackle energy independence. IAGS has received media attention in recent months for its ability to bring together conservatives such as George Shultz and former CIA chief R. James Woolsey with environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
  • With China holding a seat on the U.N. Security Council, energy-related tensions between that country and the United States could affect secondary issues, Korin said. For example, China has consistently opposed sanctions on Sudan, a country that supplies oil to Chinese refineries.

    She emphasized that IAGS is focused on near-term solutions, and that its strategy is to build on existing consensus, rather than examine differences such as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard and the debate over drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), in an effort to achieve national energy independence as soon as possible.

    The technology is there. We are looking at political questions.

    She also called for an expansion of flex-fuel usage, noting that "we don't impose tariffs on oil coming from Saudi Arabia, but we impose tariffs on ethanol coming in from Brazil and the Caribbean."

    IAGS is focusing on plug-in hybrids, Korin explained, because they can be brought into the mainstream relatively quickly.

    Fuel cells will not be on the road in any number for at least 20 years, and we don't have 20 years.

    She described bills supported by IAGS, such as the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act, a Senate bill introduced by Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), which mandates a reduction in oil consumption of 2.5 million barrels per day by 2016, 7 million barrels per day by 2026 and 10 million barrels per day by 2031. A similar bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives. (Earlier post.)

    Friday morning's session featured a brainstorming session to map out new strategies that public power utility companies can use to promote plug-in hybrid technology. A printout from Scorecard.org was distributed at the session, which showed that seven out of the twelve largest producers of air pollution in the vicinity of the symposium were related to the production of petroleum.


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