Aug 24, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
As we reach our 500th posting, we thought one writer's compelling Op-Ed might inspire CalCars-News Readers to send your personal point of view to your local newspaper or magazine. Often the local, personal point of view reaches people best. If you do write, remember to mention CalCars.org, so people can get more info -- and Plug-In Partners, so they can sign the PHEV pledge or add a soft fleet order.
500 CalCars-News messages since March 1, 2005 -- that's an average of 28 a month; we hope it's not too frequent for too many of you -- and you can browse the complete list most easily at the one long page, http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html.
Electric hybrid cars can cut oil use
By Maywa Montenegro
Ventura County Star August 18, 2006
Like many Americans, I was thrilled to hear President Bush tout hydrogen fuel cells in his January State of the Union address.
At the time, I did not realize this famous "addicted to oil" speech was less an honest commitment to the environment than a bone thrown to Big Oil.
The reason is that implementable hydrogen technology, as promising and clean as it is, remains at least another 20 years down the renewables road. That is another two decades for Exxon Mobil and others to reap massive profit margins and two decades of spiking carbon-dioxide emissions. This, at a time when many climate scientists say we have about 10 years in which to radically mend our carbon-gobbling ways.
Meanwhile, the hybrid car, which gets about 55 miles per gallon, has been on the market for six years and is rapidly gaining popularity. The next generation of hybrids ramps up the efficiency even further by reintroducing that marvel of technology, the extension cord.
Called plug-in hybrid electrics, or PHEVs, these cars employ the gasoline-electric drivetrain of the standard hybrid, but boost the battery capacity with plug-in capability.
Driven carefully, a PHEV can get between 120 and 180 mpg. And with petroleum prices soaring, running on electricity costs about a quarter of running on gas.
Auto manufacturers have long shied away from electric cars, wary mainly of their mileage constraints on freedom-loving Americans. Indeed, the shady demise of GM's EV1 gave little hope for another generation of plug-in vehicles.
But at CalCars, a small Palo Alto nonprofit, Felix Kramer held out hope that the electrical outlet could once again become a boon.
Swapping the 1.3 kilowatt-per-hour battery pack in a standard Prius for a 9kWh version, his engineers created the first hybrid plug-in, the Prius+, in 2004. Just like the original hybrid, the "plus" makes use of regenerative braking to recharge the battery; like the original, the plus never depends on an outlet, because driving on gasoline is always an option.
Soon after, Greg Hanssen at Monrovia-based EnergyCS substituted a higher-capacity lithium-ion battery and figured out how to trick the Prius' computer into thinking the battery is always more than half full, thus enabling the car to run up to 40 miles in electric-only mode.
All this sounds sublime if, like me, you are into techno-savvy green solutions.
But the plug-in hybrid has high-profile champions too, ranging from NASA's James Hansen to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to former CIA director James Woolsey.
And while their motivations may differ, they all agree that the PHEV, especially when combined with cellulosic ethanol and a modernized solar/wind power grid, stands the best chance both to curb global warming and ensure energy security now and in the immediate future.
While American carmakers fret over consumer demand, Toyota, as usual, has jumped the gun. In July, it announced "aggressive" plans to pursue a plug-in vehicle. As of today, however, the only way to get one is to let Hanssen's team retrofit your Prius for about $12,000.
Compared to $1 million for a hydrogen car, that looks downright cheap, but it's clearly not commercially viable.
In California, transportation accounts for more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Worldwide, the number is around 20 percent, but that will soon change as China and India feed their car-starved masses.
If there is one thing we can do now to make a significant strike against global warming, to treat our addiction to oil and to deliver a positive example to the rest of the world, it is to push forcefully for industrial production of electric hybrid cars.
Maybe it's my wishful thinking, but I can almost hear the silence of rush-hour traffic on the Los Angeles 405.
- Maywa Montenegro lives in Westlake Village.