Plug-in Hybrid Drivers are Charged Up

Plug-in Hybrid Drivers are Charged Up

 PHEV plugin hybrid PriusIn 1971, a bright engineer, Dr. Andy Frank, was looking to the future. He knew that oil production had peaked in the U.S. and that cheap oil would later peak globally. He calculated how to get 100 miles per gallon, and then he built a hybrid-electric car.

A few years later there was a crisis in the Mideast. Oil tankers stopped moving through the Suez Canal. There were hour gas lines in the United States with engines fuming emissions and drivers fuming with anger. Gasoline was rationed. The crisis intensified Andy Frank’s commitment to build great vehicles with outstanding fuel economy. He has been on that mission ever since.

Andy Frank took me for a ride in a big GM Equinox SUV that got double the fuel economy of a conventional SUV because he converted it to a plug-in hybrid. The ride was the same as in any other SUV except it was more quiet. Fuel economy doubled because much of the time the vehicle ran on electricity with the engine off.

This vehicle was typical of many projects. The large engine was removed. An engine less-than half its size was put in its place. His team saved hundreds of extra pounds by replacing the standard GM transmission with a smaller and lighter continuously variable transmission. Even with an added electric motor and lithium batteries, the vehicle weighed less than a standard Equinox. The air conditioning and other accessories ran electrically, instead of placing mechanical demands on a large engine. Converted to be powered electrically, the air conditioning could run with the engine off.

Andy Frank is the father of plug-in hybrids. His students at U. C. Davis have gone on to be some of the brightest minds in automotive design and transportation management. Over the past 15 years, he and his students have built over ten different plug-in hybrids. They have ranged from sport cars to full-sized SUVs. Typically these PHEV can go over 40 miles (64km) in electric-only range and weigh no more than their standard counterparts. U. C. Davis Team Fate Vehicles

The idea of plugging-in is not new. We are in the habit of recharging our mobile phone every night. Soon, we may also be recharging our vehicle every night. Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) look and drive like regular hybrids. They have a large battery pack that captures braking and engine-generated energy. Like hybrids they have computer chips that decide when to run only the electric motor, using no gas, when to run the gasoline engine, and when to run both. Many plug-in hybrids are programmed to run on only electricity for ten to forty miles before engaging the engine. Heavy duty vehicles, and eventually some passenger cars, will use more efficient diesel engines, not gasoline.

Andy Frank was all smiles as a crowd of 600 applauded at the Plug-in 2008 Conference in San Jose, California, last week. Many in the crowd now drive plug-in hybrids as part of their fleet demonstration programs. A number in the crowd had converted their personal Toyota Priuses or Ford Escape Hybrids. This was a crowd of plug-in converts.

Some visionary fleet managers have accelerated the development of plug-in hybrids. Rather than wait years for major vehicle manufacturers to offer plug-ins, these fleets have contracted for conversions then used their own maintenance teams to keep the experimental vehicles running. For example, Google is getting 93 miles per gallon (mpg) with its converted plug-in Priuses, over double the 48 mpg of its normal Priuses. Google uses solar power to charge the cars. Google’s

In Southern California, 24 million people live in an area where the mountains trap smog and damage people’s lungs. South Coast Air Quality Management District plans to reduce emissions by contracting the conversion to plug-in of 10 Priuses, 20 Ford Escape Hybrids, and several Daimler Sprinter Vans. The vehicles are being put into a variety of fleets with hopes that “a thousand flowers will bloom.”

Fleets are piloting plug-in conversions around the country. These fleets include New York City, the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado, King and Chelan County Counties in Washington, Minneapolis and the City of Santa Monica.

Electric utilities have started a variety of plug-in hybrid pilot projects involving everything from cars to large trouble trucks. These utilities include Southern California Edison, Austin Energy, Duke Energy, Wisconsin Power, and Pacific Gas and Electric to name a few. At a time when there are desperate discussions about being more dependent on oil, including taking ten years to get oil from environmentally sensitive areas, electric utilities are coming to the rescue by increasingly powering our vehicles.

Because some plug-ins will go up to 40 miles in electric mode at slower speeds, it is possible to get over 100 miles per gallon. With short trips in cold weather, little improvement might be seen. Driving on freeways without recharging will not help. However, for most driving cycles, plug-ins can dramatically reduce the need for expensive gasoline fill-ups.

You can get over 100 miles per gallon (mpg) by either adding a kit to an existing hybrid, or by waiting until late 2010 to order a new car from the car makers that will be discussed in next week’s article. Due to probable wait lists, it may be three years before individuals can get delivery of plug-ins from car makers. If you are now getting only 20 mpg, getting 100 mpg would cut your gasoline bill 80%. Over the next few years, you will have a growing number of choices of plug-in hybrids.

Plug-In Supply unveiled its $4,995 Conversion Kit at the Plug-in 2008 Conference. The lead acid (PbA) conversion kit, based on the CalCars Open Source design, converts a Prius into a plug-in hybrid with an all-electric range of up to 15 miles if kept to a maximum of 52 mph. At freeway speed the gasoline engine will be engaged. Green Car Congress Article

Most fleets and people who convert prefer to deal with a system integrator, garage, or mechanic that is experienced with plug-in conversions and can maintain the vehicles. For example, Luscious Garage has converted about 20 vehicles. A garage might charge $2,000 or more to install a plug-in kit.

A123 Hymotion is establishing certified conversion centers throughout the nation so that people can convert their Toyota Priuses to plug-in hybrids for $9,995 per car. The conversion kit includes interfacing to the Prius computer that controls hybrid operation, interfacing with existing Prius NiMH battery, and includes a 5kWh A123 lithium battery.

Many early converts are enthusiastic about their plug-in hybrids. They report that electricity is only costing the equivalent of 75 cents per gallon, compared to over $4 per gallon of gasoline. If you plan to convert a hybrid to a plug-in, be sure that you have a safe and convenient place for recharging at home, work, or other location. For most, a 110 volt garage line will be the best option., a leading plug-in non-profit group, has been a major force in the growth of plug-in hybrids. Technical guru, Ron Gremban converted a Prius in 2004, and now contributes in many areas including the development of an Open Source plug-in platform. CalCars Founder Felix Kramer has patiently nurtured the expanding support of electric vehicle groups, environmental groups, media, legislatures, and auto makers. He has made “plug-in” a household name. There are a growing number of batteries, plug-in conversion kits, and garages for plug-in conversions. CalCars summarizes offerings and provides links.

In California, Sven Thesen converted his family’s Prius to a plug-in with help from He and his wife love it, and share the plug-in Prius as their only vehicle. For them, it was not about saving money, rather it was to protect the future for their young daughters and everyone’s children. In Boston, students Zoë and Melissa converted because they see conventional cars as bad for the environment. In Texas, Jim Philippi replaced his 12 mpg Yukon with a converted plug-in that gets over 100 mpg. He buys renewable energy credits to use wind power for the plug-in charging. See Videos and Read about over 100 Plug-in Drivers

There is some truth to the old adage that you can recognize the pioneers by the arrows in their backs. Early conversions have sometimes produced problems and downtime. The conversions typically add an expensive second battery pack to the vehicle’s existing nickel metal hydride battery pack. To make the plug-in hybrid controls work, the manufacturer’s control system must be “fooled” with new input signals.

The added battery pack often displaces the Prius spare tire. In the Escape, a larger battery pack is often placed in the rear cargo area, behind the passengers seating in the rear seat. Battery life is a function of the state of charge. In hybrids, auto makers only use a narrow range of charging and discharging, so that they can warranty batteries for up to ten years. In plug-in hybrids, batteries are usually deeply discharged, reducing battery life. Kits may only warranty the expensive batteries for up to three years.

If anything goes wrong, auto makers like Toyota and Ford, may claim that the conversion created the problem and that their warranty is void. Although the car owner may have legal recourse, many are leery of warranty issues.

Even if vehicle lifecycle operating costs are higher with plug-in conversions and warranties limited, these issues have not stopped plug-in hybrid enthusiasts who strongly feel that we cannot wait for the big auto makers. They want rapid adoption of solutions to address global warming and oil addiction to end now. These early drivers of plug-in hybrids are leading the way — at 100 miles per gallon.

I returned from the conference to learn that my wife was spending $2,000 for new drapes. This was good news, for I assumed that it would therefore be no problem for me to spend $24,000 on a new Prius, less a nice trade-in for our 2002 model, and another $10,000 to convert it to a plug-in. An interesting discussion ensued.

We both want to save gas and take some leadership in making the future better, but $25,000+ (after trade-in) is a lot of money, especially in this economy. If the battery is dead in three years, that could be another $10,000, or less if kit providers offer extended warranties. Giving up the spare tire space is another concern. At least three times in my travels, I have needed to put on the emergency spare.

Like many, we are more likely to wait until the end of 2010, hoping for several electric vehicle and plug-in offerings for auto makers. These vehicles will be designed to be plug-ins, with smaller engines, only one lithium battery pack, better drive systems, and balanced vehicle weight. These new offerings will be discussed in my next article.

We can all be thankful for those who refuse to wait, often concerned with climate and energy security issues. There are over 200 converted plug-in hybrids now on the road. One year from now, there may be over 1,000 plug-in hybrids of all shapes and sizes in use.

By the end of 2010, we may be able to start buying plug-in hybrids from major auto makers. Once cars designed from the ground-up to be plug-ins are made in volume, prices differentials will drop to a fraction of the current charge of converted hybrids. In a few years, plug-ins, with long battery warranties may cost less than $5,000 more than their hybrid counterparts.

Plug-in hybrids will succeed because of Andy Frank and the early leaders who converted their vehicles to use more electricity and less petroleum. We will all benefit from the reduced gasoline use and cleaner air that started with the courageous pioneering of the plug-in converts.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences.

Copyright (c) 2008 John Addison. Portions of this article will appear in John Addison’s next book.

Elastic Demand from Stretched Consumers

Elastic Demand from Stretched Consumers

LA METRO passengersFaced with record gas prices, American fuel use is at a five-year low. Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles since November than during the same period a year earlier.

Americans joined their employers’ flexwork and commute programs. Families and friends linked trips together and rarely drove solo. Everyday heroes kept their gas guzzler parked most of the time and put miles on their other car which gets forty miles per gallon.

Now that my wife and I have moved from suburbia to the city, we have discovered what urban dwellers have long known, public transportation works. Our cars stay parked much of the time, as we travel on buses, subway, and good old-fashioned walking.

Although public transportation is effective in a compact city, it is a challenge in suburban sprawl such as Southern California, home to nearly 24 million people stretched from Los Angeles to Orange County to San Diego to San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

When I grew up in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles that is famous for its Rose Parade, my father had one choice to reach his L.A. job; he crawled the stop-and-go freeways to work and came home exhausted from the stressful traffic. While attending recent conferences in Los Angeles, I was able to take a more pleasant journey from Pasadena. Each morning, I walked two blocks, waited an average of five minutes, and then boarded the Metro Rail Gold Line, a modern light-rail that took me to Union Station in the heart of L.A. From there, I took L.A.’s modern and efficient subway to the conference hotel, a half-block walk. All for $1.50 (and system-wide day passes are just $5.00).

Later in the week, I added one transfer to the Blue Line, and then walked two blocks to the L.A. Convention Center. Although a car trip would have been somewhat faster at 5 a.m., I got door to door faster than cars in rush hour gridlock. L.A.’s light-rail and subway form the backbone for effective intermodal travel.

The L.A. Union Station is also the connecting point to train service from all over the U.S., servicing Amtrak and efficient local trains such as Metrolink. L.A. Union Station also offers express bus service to L.A. Airport. In the past, I have used Metrolink to travel from Irvine and from Claremont. Metrolink is seeing a 15% increase in ridership this year. “It’s absolutely the sticker shock and awe at the gas prices,” said Denise Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Metrolink. “This is the time of year that we normally have lower ridership, but it’s only going up.”

In a few years, L.A. Union Station may also be the hub for the type of high-speed rail now enjoyed in Europe and Japan. Southern California travel time will be cut in half. Travel from L.A. to San Francisco will be two hours and forty minutes. High-Speed Rail Report

1.7 million times per day, people travel on Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro). Although light-rail is at the heart of the system, 90% of the rides are on buses, not light-rail. Much of the bus riding is similar to light-rail, using pleasant stations, pre-paid tickets for fast boarding, electronic signs that announce when the next bus will arrive, buses that seat 84 to 100 people, and some dedicated busways. Metro is using bus rapid transit that once only succeeded in South America. The Secrets of Curitiba

Although Southern California is highly dependent on foreign oil, Metro is not. Its fleet of over 2,550 buses represent the largest alt-fuel public transit fleet in the nation. Over 2,500 buses run on CNG. The natural gas is pipeline delivered to 10 Metro locations.

Last year, when I met with Metro’s General Manager Richard Hunt, and he discussed ways that more people would be served with clean transportation. He shared how Metro will move more riders at 4-minute intervals at the busiest stations. Like other major operators, Metro is under a California ARB mandate to start making 15% of its replacement fleet zero emission buses (ZEB). Metro has evaluated all of these potentially zero-emission alternatives:

• Battery electric
• Underground-electrified trolley
• Hydrogen fuel cell
• Hydrogen-blended with CNG

Currently, the most promising path to meet the ZEB requirement will be battery-electric buses. Under consideration are lithium-ion batteries operating with an electric drive train. The configuration could be similar to the six 40-foot New Flyer ISE gasoline hybrids currently on order. Metro is working with CalStart, a non-profit leader in clean transportation, and a consortium of Southern California transit operators.

Diesel and CNG buses normally need a range of at least 300 miles to cover routes for 16-plus hours daily; battery electric buses would be better suited for six to 8 hours of daily use during peak service periods (morning and evening rush hours). Ranges of 100 to 150 miles daily would be appropriate for peak battery electric use. Theoretically, with a bigger investment in batteries, advanced drive system maker ISE could actually build electric buses that meet a full 300 mile range by putting a remarkable 600kW of lithium batteries on the roof of each bus.

Critics of electric vehicles claim that oil is merely being replaced with dirty coal power plants. This is not true. There is excess grid-electricity at night. Metro already uses several MW of solar roofing with plans to expand. Coal is less than 30% of California’s electric grid mix, with megawatts of wind and concentrated solar power being added to the grid. Vehicles with electric motors and regenerative braking have reported fuel economy figures that are 300% more efficient than diesel and CNG internal combustion engine alternatives.

Yes, even in the sprawling 1,400 square mile region that Metro must service, transit is growing in use while total emissions are declining. Riders are freed from their oil dependent cars, save money riding transit, and can now enjoy the ride and breathe the air. A dollar spent on public transportation is going farther than spending ten bucks on more oil.

Conventional wisdom has been that American’s demand for petroleum is inelastic in relation to price. We are told that we are addicted to oil. We are lectured that the only solution is to find more oil at any price or turn coal into oil at any environmental price. The U.S. Congress is criticized for not turning California’s pristine coastline and the Artic National Refuge into oil patches. It now looks like the best solution is Economics 101. Price goes up and demand goes down. In fact, Americans are eager for fuel efficient vehicles, corporate commute programs, and effective public transportation. Now that we are economically stretched, demand for gasoline is suddenly elastic.

Copyright © 2008 John Addison. Some of this content may appear in John’s upcoming book, Save Gas, Save the Planet.

Cap-and-Trade Gold in the Golden State

Cap-and-Trade Gold in the Golden State

Golden Gate BridgeObama and McCain have both stated that climate change requires decisive action. Both support cap-and-trade, putting a limit (cap) on greenhouse gases and enabling the market to work by allowing the trading of permits.

How would this work in the United States? We will all learn from California’s progress with its enacted law – AB32 Climate Solutions Act. The implementation is detailed in the 93-page Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan.

By requiring in law a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, California has set the stage for its transition to a clean energy future.

Since the law was enacted in 2006, the lead implementing agency, the California Air Resources Board (ARB), has been getting an earful from everyone from concerned citizens to industry lobbyists. It moves forward publishing data from the California Climate Action Registry, facilitating 12 major action teams, conducting public workgroups, and drafting plans which get more feedback in public meetings. The ARB Board will next meet to review the proposed Scoping Plan on Novembers 20 and 21.

Climate change is already impacting everything in California from draughts that cause agricultural loses to water shortages that impact industry. But instead of seeing the glass as half empty, the California Plan states, “This challenge also presents a magnificent opportunity to transform California’s economy into one that runs on clean and sustainable technologies, so that all Californians are able to enjoy their rights to clean air, clean water, and a healthy and safe environment.” Cleantech will be a major winner.

The plan is ambitious because California’s population in 2020 is forecasted to be double the 1990 level. The Climate Solutions Act will require that per capita CO2e emissions be reduced from today’s 14 tons per year to 10 tons per day by 2020. The total state cap for 2020 is 427 MMTCO2e. Keys to success will include:

  • Green buildings with improved construction, insullation, energy efficient lighting, HVAC, equipment, and appliances.
  • Electric utilities that use at least 33 percent renewable energy.
  • Development of a California cap-and-trade program that links with other western states and Canadians provinces to create a regional market system.
  • Implementation of existing State laws and policies, including California’s clean vehicle standards, goods movement measures, and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

The Plan shows that California has learned from the Kyoto implementation. California’s scope is much broader, covering 85 percent of the State’s greenhouse gas emissions from six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). AB32 calls for incremental improvements all the way to 2050.

The transportation sector – largely the cars and trucks – is the largest contributor with 38 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity generation is 23 percent. Industry 20 percent. Commercial and residential buildings are 9 percent.

Look for economic growth in a number of areas. New buildings will increasingly be LEED certified, often at the Silver level. Building efficiency retrofits will be an active area employing contracts large and small.

Distributed power generation will grow. Combined heat and power will be actively deployed. Process efficiency will continue.

Renewable energy will experience strong growth including wind, solar, geothermal, and bioenergy. Ocean power pilot projects will continue. Controversial new power from nuclear and petroleum coke gasification with CSS will be considered. In-state coal power generation is history in California. Using out-of-state coal power will continue to decline as GHG emissions are priced into the equation.

Wind continues to grow in California and the nation. A fascinating read is the Department of Energy (DOE) report, entitled 20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030, which identifies the real feasibility of the United States reaching meeting 20 percent of its energy requirements from wind by 2030. A path to over 300 GW of wind power by 2030 is detailed.

California and much of the nation is blessed with an abundance of sunlight. The Utility Solar Assessment (USA) Study, produced by Clean Edge and Co-op America, provides a comprehensive roadmap for utilities, solar companies, and regulators to reach 10% solar in the U.S. by 2025 with both PV and CSP.

C02 costs are not likely to significantly increase the cost of fuel, but rocketing oil costs have changed the game. Use of corporate flexible work programs, commuting, and use of public transportation are now at record levels in the state and will grow in popularity.

California High-Speed Rail (HSR) is likely to be on the California ballot this November, with a price tag that will be a fraction of the cost of expanding highways and adding an airport. HSR would link major transit systems throughout the state, and save billions in fuel costs and emissions.

AB32 is also likely to reach its goals because cars will increasingly outsell SUVs and trucks in California. By 2020, electric cars and plug-in hybrids may experience and explosion of popularity. New low-carbon fuels are likely to be widely used.

California is working closely with six other states and three Canadian provinces in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) to design a regional greenhouse gas emission reduction program that includes a cap-and-trade approach. ARB will develop a cap-and-trade program for California that will link with the programs in the other partner states and provinces to create this western regional market. California’s participation in WCI creates an opportunity to provide substantially greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from throughout the region than could be achieved by California alone. AB32 may give the United States a head-start in its own cap-and-trade program.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.