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Sep 1, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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For your reading enjoyment this holiday weekend, here's a roundup of recent not-to-be-missed news and information:

  • Transcript of GM's 30-second radio ad for Volt
  • NYTimes article about backup power from Prius and vehicle-to-grid
  • Remembering the inspiring inventor Paul MacCready
  • More rebuttals to the "Hummer greener than Prius" story
  • IEEE cover story on A123 and PHEV batteries
  • Technology Review's print story on PHEVs excerpted
  • American Environomics' thought-provoking attitudinal study

General Motors has begun to air radio ads for the Volt: they've been heard in Michigan and the SF Bay Area. Here's a link to the broadcast and a transcript of the 30-second commercial. (Is it significant that they call it a concept car? That they say the batteries are being designed? That the 40 mile electric range shoulders aside the "extended range" message?)

Ok, listen…. [quiet - no sound]

D’you hear that? … [background music starts]

That, my friend, is the sound of the future.

Yep, the extended range electric car is coming.

It’s the concept Chevy volt.

And all of those engineering students who got straight A’s in physics - they’re designing the batteries right now.

Think about it: up to 40 miles a day without using a drop of gasoline.

Now, this assumes a fully charged battery and actual mileage may vary.

Go to and learn more, do more, use less.

[That URL has a link to "Gas-Friendly to Gas-Free" with choices including: •Fuel Efficiency •E85 •Ethanol •Active Fuel Management •Hybrid •Electric •Fuel Cell]

This Sunday's New York Times Auto Section includes "Greentech: Power to the People: Run Your House on a Prius" by Jim Motavalli, editor of E Magazine.­preview/­2007/­09/­02/­automobiles/­1154688168325.html

WHEN Hurricane Frances ripped through Gainesville, Fla., in 2004, Christopher Swinney, an anesthesiologist, was without electricity for a week. A few weeks ago, Dr. Swinney lost power again, but this time he was ready.

He plugged his Toyota Prius into the backup uninterruptible power supply unit in his house and soon the refrigerator was humming and the lights were back on. “It was running everything in the house except the central air-conditioning,” Dr. Swinney said.

Without the Prius, the batteries in the U.P.S. unit would have run out of power in about an hour. The battery pack in the car kept the U.P.S. online and was itself recharged by the gasoline engine, which cycled on and off as needed. The U.P.S. has an inverter, which converts the direct current electricity from the batteries to household alternating current and regulates the voltage. As long as it has fuel, the Prius can produce at least three kilowatts of continuous power, which is adequate to maintain a home’s basic functions.

This form of vehicle-to-grid technology, often called V2G, has attracted hobbyists, university researchers and companies like Pacific Gas & Electric and Google. Although there is some skepticism among experts about the feasibility of V2G, the big players see a future in which fleets of hybrid cars, recharged at night when demand is lower, can relieve the grid and help avert serious blackouts.

Willett Kempton, a senior scientist in the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware, said the power capacity of the automotive fleet was underutilized.

Mr. Kempton is helping to explore the V2G capabilities of a fuel-cell bus and battery-electric vehicles. The technology is also well-suited for so-called plug-in hybrids, which are being developed by General Motors, Toyota and other automakers. Plug-in hybrids will use larger battery packs and recharge from a household outlet for 10 to 30 miles of electric-only driving. When modified, these cars can return electricity to the grid from their batteries.

Google has four Priuses with plug-in capacity at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. With some advice from P.G.& E., Google equipped one to supply power to the grid.

Larry Brilliant, executive director of Google’s nonprofit arm,, said that the company was interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, and that large numbers of plug-in vehicles could help achieve that. “In addition, V2G technology done at scale could bring the added benefit of delivering electricity to help stabilize the grid and reduce peak demand,” he said.

Keith Parks, an analyst at the Minneapolis-based utility Xcel Energy, offers what he calls a “pie-in-the-sky vision” for V2G in which a company would offer incentives to its employees to buy plug-in hybrids. The parking lot would be equipped with recharging stations, which could also return power to the grid from the vehicles.

Both Xcel Energy and the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Mr. Parks’s former employer, are investigating V2G technology. According to Terry Penney, technology manager for advanced vehicles at the laboratory, “Our long-term vision is how vehicles can interact with the grid.”

“We see this as a win-win,” said Sven Thesen, director of P.G.& E.’s Clean Air Transportation office. The utility owns Sparky, a Prius converted to plug-in operation by EnergyCS of Monrovia, Calif.

Mr. Thesen offers a theoretical situation in which, on the eve of a record hot day with an expected high electricity load, the utility could alert a network of plug-in owners and have them temporarily run their air-conditioners or other large-load appliances off car batteries instead of the electrical grid.

“There’s quite a bit of excitement about this in venture-capital circles and amongst leading-edge entrepreneurs,” said Jesse Berst of “It’s the first new use for the electric power infrastructure in 100 years.”

But the V2G vision is not likely to be realized soon because engineers are wrestling with battery technology, cost and weight. A word of caution is added by John DeCicco, a mechanical engineer and senior fellow for automotive strategies at the nonprofit group Environmental Defense. “It’s hard to take seriously the promises made for plug-in hybrids with 30-mile all-electric range or any serious V2G application any time soon,” he said. “It’s still in the science project stage.”

No automaker is selling a plug-in hybrid vehicle, but some ambitious people are making their own. Converting a stock Prius to back up the grid is much easier, and the guru for such conversions is Richard Factor, 61, an inventor from Kinnelon, N.J.

Mr. Factor says that small U.P.S. units, often used to provide backup power for computer servers, are inexpensive. His system, which he estimates would cost $2,000 to $4,000 to duplicate, incorporates a large U.P.S. mounted in his home and a long electrical cord to the Prius, where it connects through the car’s built-in relay terminals. His system is designed to integrate with the grid, but he said more rudimentary systems could be built for as little as $200.

During a recent six-hour power failure, Mr. Factor estimated that his 2005 Prius used less than one gallon of gasoline. If the electrical load was relatively low Mr. Factor said the car could possibly run for two days or more before running out of fuel.

The V2G potential of Honda’s full hybrid vehicles is unexplored, but the company is doubtful of using them to power homes. “We would not like to see stresses on the battery pack caused by putting it through cycles it wasn’t designed for,” said Chris Naughton, a Honda spokesman. “Instead, they should buy a Honda generator that was made for that purpose.”

NOTE: Richard Factor's website mentioned in the article is­

Paul MacCready, one of the world's great engineers, and an inspiration to inventors, died this week at age 81. We first heard about his human-powered airplanes, the Gossamer Condor and Gossamer Albatross. When we got involved with plug-in cars, we discovered he'd helped create the GM EV1, and when we met we found he was a huge fan of PHEVs. The company he founded, Aerovironment, was the incubator for many projects relating to electric transportation and batteries, and for people who ended up at EnergyCS, Tesla and other companies. You can read NYT writer Douglas Martin's moving obituary at­2007/­08/­31/­us/­31maccready.html and EVWorld Editor Bill Moore's "Tribute to a Hero of the Planet" at­article.cfm?storyid=1310

The ridiculous story of a Prius being worse environmentally than a Hummer keeps coming back for another round. (Nothing ever disappears permanently online. We still get emails telling us that Bill Gates will send us money if we forward a chain letter to our friends.) Find serious rebuttals by the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Pacific Institute at .­topics/­integrity_of_science/­case_studies/­hummer_vs_prius.pdf

Now Joe Romm, who writes a great blog called, has outdone himself with an entertaining and informative dissection of the story (given new life by Rush Limbaugh among others). Read it at­2oqkv7 or this long URL­2007/­08/­27/­prius-easily-beats-hummer-in-life-cycle-energy-use-

At the same time as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (I-TripleE) is holding a major briefing on PHEVs in DC (see our CalCars-News posting this week), Spectrum, the prestigious monthly magazine, has a six-page article, "Lithium Batteries Take to the Road: Hybrid Electric Cars Need Much Better Batteries , and A123, a Plucky Massachusetts Start-Up, Says It's Got Them." The article, by Spectrum automotive editor John Voecker, is chock-full of information and graphics about battery variants, cathode technologies, phosphates, etc. See­sep07/­5490

Kellin Bullis, nanotechnology and materials science editor for Technology Rrview, has written about PHEVs online. The Sept/Oct. print edition has "Electric Cars 2.0: Plug-in hybrids could bring gas-free commutes. But will they make it to market?" Here's the last half of the article, from­Energy/­19181/­

To become practical and economically viable, plug-in vehicles will need to be mass-produced.

Will automakers follow through on their highly publicized announcements about plug-ins? GM, for one, has a reputation for quitting on innovative engineering; the company's executives scrapped an earlier all-electric vehicle. And even though GM had an early lead in conventional hybrid technology, it failed to bring hybrids to market until after the success of Toyota's Prius. What will happen to plug-in plans if gas prices drop, or if interest in reducing greenhouse gases wanes?

No one can predict the results of the carmakers' fickle decision-­making process. But a few things are clear. Plug-ins are the most practical and enticing alternative to the ­internal-­combustion engine that has been developed in years. And their fate will depend on whether automakers learn from the success of conventional hybrids and fully embrace the new technology.

I did at last drive a working plug-in. The converted car glided noiselessly along the streets of Boston as I eyed a gauge that estimated my mileage at more than 150 miles per gallon. But on the day that I saw the Volt on display at A123's offices, GM wasn't ­giving rides; the car was just a mock-up, without the new batteries. As I sat in the driver's seat and grasped the steering wheel, sunlight streaming through the clear roof, it was easy to believe that plug-ins are on the way. But the mock-up was also a harsh reminder that when it comes to green innovation, U.S. automakers have long been more eager to show off flashy concept cars than to manufacture vehicles that work.

From the people who brought you "The Death of Environmentalism," a 24-page report on "Energy Attitudes: Rising Public Demand for Government Action on Energy Independence Even as Global Warming Remains a Low Priority for Voters." Highly recommended and thought-provoking. A summary won't do it justice:­PDF/­EnergyAttitudesSummer2007.pdf

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