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Plug-in Hybrid FAQ

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"Plug-in Hybrid FAQ"

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Climate Progress has blogged on Plug-in Hybrid Elective Vehicles (PHEVs) many times because they are an important part of the climate solution and because electricity is the only alternative fuel that can lead to energy independence. But certain questions keep coming up in comments, so here’s a short FAQ.

epri-driving-the-solution-cover.jpg

What is a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)?
A PHEV is like a regular hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) but with a larger battery pack and a plug so the batteries can be charged from standard household current. Thus the vehicle is dual-fuel: your driving can be powered by either electricity, gasoline, or both. For more, see CalCars’ All About Plug-In Hybrids and Wikipedia’s Plug-In Hybrids. A number after the PHEV acronym indicates the electric range of the vehicle, so a PHEV-20 can operate on electricity instead of gasoline for 20 miles.
Why would I want to plug in my car?
Fueling your car with electricity is about 5 times cheaper than fueling it with gasoline. That is like buying gasoline at less than $1 per gallon. It also reduces your greenhouse pollution and helps reduce crude oil imports.
If fueling my car with electricity is so cheap, why bother with gasoline?
Initially PHEVs will be able to run 10-60 miles solely on electricity. When you need to go further, the car can seamlessly and automatically switch to gasoline. Charging the batteries is optional (but much cheaper per mile).
Why can’t PHEVs have a higher electric range?
commutedistances.gifThey could, but they wouldn’t be as cost-effective. Most people drive less than 40 miles a day (see chart), and paying for range that is infrequently used adds to the cost without significant fuel savings. Pure Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) have ranges up to 250 miles, but large battery packs are expensive (though declining in price each year), so when the gas tank is present it makes sense to use it. For electricity the fuel is cheap but the tank (the battery pack) is expensive. For gasoline the fuel is expensive but the tank is cheap. PHEVs combine the best of these by using electricity for your everyday driving, and using gasoline for the less common long trips.
What if I want to take a family vacation, and drive hundreds of miles?
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are exactly like hybrids when taken on long trips–they are powered by gasoline from the tank. They use much less gasoline than conventional vehicles because of hybrid efficiency. The occasional family trip is one reason that PHEV-20s, for example, are projected to cut gasoline consumption only in half.
Won’t PHEVs require us to build even more power plants?
epri-nightcharge.gifNot at first. PHEVs will be programmed to charge at night, when electricity demand is low. (You’ll plug it in when you get home, and the car will know when to charge.) One of the U.S. Department of Energy’s labs, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, looked at how many plug-in vehicles today’s grid support without modification, and concluded that 73% of cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans could be supported by the existing infrastructure. This is made clear by the picture above from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a utility-funded lab.
Why do PHEVs reduce greenhouse pollution?
welltowheels.gifA study by EPRI, the California Air Resources Board, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and others (5.3MB PDF) concluded that plug-in hybrids produced substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions than either conventional gasoline cars or unplugged hybrids. The reduction in emissions results from electric operation being much more efficient than gasoline operation.
Don’t PHEVs and BEVs just shift pollution from the tailpipe to power plants?
No. The proper comparison between vehicle types is the “wells-to-wheels” basis, where the pollution from extracting the raw materials, shipping, transformation (e.g. refining), and use are added. BEVs and PHEVs running on electricity have zero tailpipe emissions, but there are still mining and power plant emissions. Those emissions are however much lower than the corresponding crude oil extraction, refining, and tailpipe emissions. Pollution here includes greenhouse gases such as carbon-dioxide. The grid is getting cleaner each year, and will continue to do so as we replace fossil power plants with renewables, while a gasoline car gets dirtier as it ages.
Fueling a car on gasoline made from coal (Coal-To-Liquids or CTL) emits twice as much greenhouse gas as gasoline from crude oil. Why is fueling a PHEV from coal electricity better than gasoline?
Two reasons: (1) Electric motors are extremely efficient compared to internal combustion engines, and this efficiency more than compensates for the dirtiness of coal. (2) The U.S. grid is only 49% coal (natural gas is 20%, nuclear is 20%, hydro is 7%, and other renewables are 2.4%). Thus power to charge PHEVs is not all from coal, and some is from zero emission sources.
When and where can I buy one?
PHEVs are not yet available from major automakers, but will be in 2 years. There are kits and companies that will convert hybrids to PHEVs. Please see CalCars’ How Carmakers are Responding to the Plug-In Hybrid Opportunity for more information, and start telling car dealers “no-plug, no-deal”.
Don’t PHEVs cost more to buy? How long does it take to break even?
PHEVs require a larger battery pack compared to a hybrid, and the additional batteries do add cost. A mid-size sedan with 20 miles of electric range (a PHEV-20) would require 6.7 kWh of additional batteries, costing an extra $2000. If this amount were financed with a 5-year auto loan at 5.5%, the monthly payment would be $38. Using today’s gasoline prices ($4.08/gallon), electric operation might reduce the car’s monthly fuel expenses by $57, leaving a net savings of $19. As gasoline prices increase, the savings increase. With a loan or lease paying for the batteries, small savings begin in the first month, and increase at the end of the loan term. The resale value of the car is also increased.
Why are PHEVs good for the country, not just my wallet?
poweredbyamericanelectrons.gifConverting ten million conventional vehicles to hybrids reduces U.S. consumption of gasoline by 1.5% a year. Convert those hybrids to PHEV-20s and we reduce our gasoline consumption an additional 1.5%. Doing both, going from conventional vehicles directly to PHEVs reduces consumption by 3.0% a year. Sell 10 million PHEVs each year, and the savings accumulate (3% the first year, 6% the next, and so on), reducing our imports (66% of our gasoline is from imported crude). The reduction in gasoline consumption not only saves PHEV drivers money, it also reduces the U.S. trade deficit, and makes us less dependent on foreign producers. Many national security experts see plug-in hybrids as crucial to U.S. security, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, and many Representatives and Senators. See Oil and Security by George Shultz and R. James Woolsey and the Set America Free Coalition for more information.
Are the batteries ready?
Yes. According to EPRI, “battery durability testing sponsored jointly by EPRI and Southern California Edison demonstrate that current lithium-ion batteries are likely to retain sufficient capacity for more than 3000 dynamic deep-discharge cycles–about 10-12 years of typical driving.” The excuse “the batteries aren’t ready” has been used frequently because it is convenient, and few people bother to check. Any manufacturer sells what it has, and automakers are no different. When there are failures of planning in the board room, it is convenient for a manufacturer not to admit their mistake, but to blame the lack of a product on something beyond their control. That is PR. The current absence of plug-in vehicles from America’s showrooms has been conveniently blamed on the batteries. In reality, existing, proven NiMH batteries, such as found in hybrids and BEVs could easily power PHEVs. However, automakers would like to switch from NiMH to Li-Ion batteries for PHEVs because they are lighter, smaller, and potentially cheaper. Common Li-Ion batteries (Lithium-Cobalt), such as found in cell phones and laptops have lifetime and safety issues, which allowed the automakers to claim lack of readiness. However, other Li-Ion chemistries have existed for some time, so this claim was not accurate. For example, Lithium-Iron-Phosphate batteries are inherently safe and will last the lifetime of a vehicle. Also, the issues with Lithium-Cobalt batteries can be solved with the addition of other elements such as nickel and manganese. For example, Sanyo uses a mixture of Ni, Mn, and Co for the positive electrode, thereby producing a safer battery that exhibits power retention ratio of 80% or higher after 10,000 cycles (10-15 years in a hybrid vehicle).
What about charging PHEVs from renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar?
Wind and solar are excellent sources of electricity for PHEVs because PHEVs could be designed to take power when it is available, and not be bothered by intermittency. Cars are typically in use 5% of the day, and parked 95% of the time. Charging from a normal wall outlet might take 30% of the day. That difference represents flexibility to charge when wind or solar power are available. It is also not necessary to get a full charge, there is always gasoline as a backup.
Where can I find more information?
A few of the many previous Climate Progress posts are listed below. The CalCars FAQ covers a few more questions not covered here. The previously cited Pacific Northwest National Lab report is filled with technical details. Two EPRI Journal articles cover PHEVs: Plug-In Hybrids on the Horizon: Building a Business Case (1.7MB PDF) and The Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle: Beyond Gasoline (4MB PDF). A joint assessment, Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles, by EPRI and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is very detailed.

Related posts:

External references:

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– Earl. K.

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68 Responses to Plug-in Hybrid FAQ

  1. Dennis says:

    Earl, Thank you for this valuable FAQ. What we need now is a cost benefit analysis of the cost of a PHEV v. today’s autos for the typical urban driver. Since they aren’t on the market yet, that analysis ought to create a baseline sale price break even point from which the next administration can provide assistance to the auto industry to get these into mass production. And the environmental benefits are gravy on top of that.

  2. Earl Killian says:

    Dennis, I presume you are talking about something much more detailed than the Q/A titled “Don’t PHEVs cost more to buy? How long does it take to break even?” The breakeven is in the first month if the cost difference is financed.

  3. Michael says:

    Great FAQ — was wondering if you can add information about battery recycling, the battery manufacturing process and battery materials impact on the environment?

  4. Ronald says:

    Great article. Battery vehicles will be in our future. Just some things that I was thinking about.

    1. Why isn’t more done on this in Europe and Japan. While we complain about our 4.00 dollar gasoline, they have 10.00 dollar Eq. gasoline right now and have been at more than 4.00 gallon for many more years. I would think with the shorter distances and for other things, they would have developed these battery vehicles already. They would have more incentive to do it anyway. I would expect the market for these things would be Europe, Japan and California first and then tricle out to rest of the United States after many years.

    2. There might be quite a few trips before the gasoline engine would have to start up. I would assume that the car would automatically want the engine to start up just to make sure that it would run when it is needed to run. These engines need to be started from time to time.

    3. Would there be a gasoline/fuel drain on these things. Some people might not use the fuel in the tank for quite some time and the fuel could get old or stale or whatever happens to it when it hasn’t been used for a time. I might want to drive around with a full tank even if the engine doesn’t run that often just for the chance I might need it, but the gas would get old.

    4. Has anybody looked into the possiblity of having an attachable trailer for those longer trips that would have the gasoline engine that could supply the power for longer trips. The Trailer could be purchased or maybe rented for that occational long trip.

    I have driven natural gas and electric forklifts and from those give me a electric forklift if possible. Yes they are different vehicle requirements than road vehicles, but from that I would look forward to a battery car.

  5. Dennis says:

    Earl, I guess what I am driving at when I ask about the break-even cost point is the cost to industry. As a consumer, if I were to buy a new car today, I could do the math and know if it will save me money.

    But let’s face facts: Detroit isn’t going to re-tool and manufacture these any time soon unless they see money in it.

    If I read your FAQ correctly, $2,000 per car is just the cost of the battery. It will cost Detroit more to redesign the car and re-tool entire factories. What if that number is an additional $5,000 per car?

    There needs to be some mechanism — either tax incentives or regulation — to make them move towards PHEV. I’m glad Toyota and VW have started this, but without Ford and GM making PHEVs as well, those numbers will be small.

  6. Earl Killian says:

    Dennis, I see what you are asking. That is indeed worth looking into. In June DOE announced it would give the “big 3″ 30 million to fund PHEV work. Most news articles commented that 30 million seemed like chump change given the need.

  7. Earl Killian says:

    Dennis, I should also point out that the July 2001 EPRI report I linked to has detailed cost estimates for PHEVs produced by a study group that included automakers. For example, they wrote, “In Figure 2-6, Retail Price Equivalents (RPEs) for the CV and hybrid vehicles are shown separately for the Base and ANL methods, respectively. Depending on the method used, compared to the CV’s RPE the HEV 0 RPE is approximately $2,500 to $4,000 higher, the HEV20 RPE approximately $4,000 to $6,000 higher, and the HEV 60 RPE is approximately $7,400 to $10,000 higher.” These estimates appear to have included retooling costs, factored in on a per-vehicle basis (see Table C-4).

    Note that if one subtracts the PHEV20 number above from the HEV0 number, the range is $1500 to $2000 (I used $2000 in the FAQ).

  8. Earl Killian says:

    Michael, thank you for the comment and suggestion. If the FAQ becomes a regular post, I could update the next one. The recycling rate for lead-acid car batteries is 97% and recycled lead represents over half of lead consumption. It is likely that this will become true for Lithium, IMO.

  9. A Siegel says:

    Very good discussion / layout of PHEV issues / facts / Q&A. I’ve already referred multiple people to it. Thus, kudos and thanks.

    Now, I think it valuable to mention one of the core differences in the coming PHEVs: serial vs parrallel hybrid. (For example, Volt vs Prius)

  10. Bob Wallace says:

    “The recycling rate for lead-acid car batteries is 97% and recycled lead represents over half of lead consumption. It is likely that this will become true for Lithium, IMO.”

    Two points for further investigation.

    Toyota apparently already has a recycling process/system for lithium batteries.

    Car batteries loose capacity over time and when they fall below the optimal range for transportation they still have quite a bit of capacity left.

    There is some discussion of giving them a ‘second use’ life via utility companies utilizing them for grid smoothing/storage. Then sending them for recycling after they further degrade.

  11. Dennis says:

    Earl,
    Thanks for the reference. The EPRI report is over 200 pages and full of valuable facts; I just haven’t had a chance to digest it yet.

  12. Earl Killian says:

    A Siegel, yes I think that would be a good idea. The Wikipedia article that we link to does cover series/parallel.

  13. Earl Killian says:

    Bob, if you have a citation on the Toyota item, I would love to have it. Did you mean NiMH recycling though? Toyota as far as I know doesn’t do much Lithium (the only vehicle of theirs I know of that is Lithium is the Vitz).

    I know what you mean about second use: I would like to replace my PV batteries with the NiMH batteries from my RAV4-EV once they finally are no longer like new (so far 81,000 miles and they are still going and going).

  14. Bob Wallace says:

    Earl, this is a great article.

    To the operators of this site:

    I’d like to see a series of articles on all aspects of emerging energy technology – solar, wind, storage, geothermal, etc. Make the articles accessible via a front page list. Don’t let them drift into the back pages.

    Create a central point on the web where one could go to get up to date on various topics.

    Post the articles with the ability to people to comment as this one is done.

    Periodically rewrite the article to incorporate new information and relevant input from the comments. Let the commenting start anew.

  15. Earl Killian says:

    Ronald, I don’t have an answer to why PHEVs weren’t pioneered in Europe and Japan first. A lot of innovation does happen in the US, only to see others turn around and run with it more adeptly than US companies. Also, California’s EV mandates may have something to do with it (even BMW has decided to bring an EV mini-Cooper to California).

    As far as engine starts and stale fuel, I doubt this is not an issue on PHEV-20s, but begins to become an issue at -40s and is even more for -60s. It is also probably not an issued for a blended PHEV like the Prius, which requires its internal combustion engine in some situations even when the battery has excess charge. I know that the California Air Resources Board is researching emissions from cold starts (e.g. the Prius stores heat to keep the catalytic converter efficient, and this might be less effective on a serial PHEV). I don’t really see a problem though. Perhaps PHEVs will have, instead of an EV button, an ICE button. Drivers can use the ICE button once a month to see if it still works…

    Attachable trailers have been built and successfully used on BEVs (they are still on the road). This is a cute idea because it turns a BEV into a serial PHEV, but only when you need it. During the week you don’t carry around the weight of the ICE, but if you take a long trip on the weekend, you attach the trailer for extra range. When you get to your destination, you detach and drive as a pure BEV again. AC Propulsion built trailers both for the tZero and the RAV4-EV. See
    http://www.acpropulsion.com/reports/Low_Emiss_Range_Ext.pdf
    for more information.

  16. Ronald says:

    Earl,

    Thanks for the reply and the information on attachable trailers for BEV and PHEV’s. Logically it seems that it would work well.

    I’ve thought that a good system would be a small engine, like 30 to 50 horsepower, where the engine would run at the engines optimum speed and power much of the time helping to run the car and charging the batteries when stopped. The amount of run time of the engine would be determined by how far you wanted to travel. To go on a 10 mile round trip, the engine might not turn on at all. on a 50 mile trip the engine would run more often. That way the vehicle operator could let the vehicle know how far it would travel and the vehicle would optimize the amount of battery discharge to the amount that the engine would run. Maybe someday.

  17. Eric G says:

    Hey Earl, here’s something I’ve been wondering about for years.

    When I first read about hybrid vehicles, probably 15 years ago, it was in an article written by Amory Lovins. He described a serial hybrid without batteries. The idea was that an engine optimized to produce electricity would be cheaper, smaller and much more efficient than an engine designed to power the wheels. As far as I am aware, nothing like that has ever been commercially available. The Chevy Volt is a serial hybrid with batteries.

    Why is it that serial hybrids never made it to market? They seem so much simpler than parallel hybrids. Chevy claims the Volt will get 50 mpg when the engine is running. Take away the cost, weight and space requirements of the batteries, and you have a pretty good car.

  18. Earl Killian says:

    Eric G, we’ve had serial non-battery hybrids since 1917, with mass deployment starting in the 1940s. However, this was for locomotives, not passenger vehicles.

    There is however a big difference between locomotives and passenger vehicles that tip the advantage to hybrids with batteries, and that is start-and-stop driving. Even locomotives are moving from diesel-electric to diesel-battery-electric. GE is developing one, and they claim, “The energy dissipated in braking a 207-ton locomotive during the course of one year is enough to power 160 households for that year. The hybrid locomotive will capture that dynamic energy and use it to produce more horsepower and reduce emissions and fuel use.”

  19. John Mashey says:

    Over the long term, a PHEV should be able to have:
    - an entirely electric drive train, with an motor per wheel, if you like
    - electric steering, accelerator, i.e., drive-by-wire

    and these ought to make cars lighter, cheaper, and much more mantainable (as earl knows from his RAV4EV experience).

    So, why hasn’t everybody already done it?
    Well, among the reasons can be found in Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. A bit chunk of car companies’ expertise is wrapped up in the design an manufacture of engines, drivetrains, brakes, etc, although of course, over he least deacee or so, cars have been turning into “computer centers with wheels”.

    It can’t be easy, institutionally, to be willing to dump that part of the expertise.

    This is very akin to what happened with minicomputer companies in the 1980s, of which at once point there were many, but bit ones included HP, Digital equipment, Data General, Prime, and many others. Minicomputer CPU designers were quite proud of their skills in designing fast CPUs from combinations of other circuits, sometimes with tricky cooling solutions. Many were quire resistant to the idea that they could replace all that with one microprocessor, whose heat dissipation was far less. Some would argue endlessly that CMOS microprocessors would never be able to catch their handcrafted (ECL/bipolar-blogic) complex designs.

    Result: HP (which was aggressively building its own microprocessors) still exists as an independent company. Everybody else switched to micros, got bought, or went out of business.

    Anyway, the Christensen book illustrates how hard it is for a big, complex organization to deal with threats that come from below [in terms of price/simplicity.] Of course, there are many distribution issues, safety issues, and other things that go into making a quality car, so current car vendors aren’t inherently doomed …. but there are bad precedents.

  20. Robert says:

    I can’t see how PHEV are going to solve anything. Unless a lot of ther things happen at the same time they are just a way of increasing coal consumption. Meanwhile global oil consumption will continue unabated, subject to existing supply limitations.

    Of course, if we could somehow make solar PV, wind, etc. cost competitive with coal then coal use would subside. This challenge is already on the table, with or without PHEV, and is not being taken up.

    Joe – you need to stop getting distracted. This site should be focussed on emission reductions not ways to dig ourselves in deeper. PHEV is just a continuation of Kunstler’s ‘happy motoring utopia’!

  21. John Hollenberg says:

    > Joe – you need to stop getting distracted. This site should be focussed on emission reductions not ways to dig ourselves in deeper.

    If you had read the articles on ClimateProgress over the last few months, you would know that Joe has discussed Concentrating Solar Power, wind, limiting coal use, avoiding Oil Tar Sands, increasing energy efficiency and multiple other areas relevant to the total solution. Joe sees PHEV as a key component of the solution, but not the whole solution.

  22. Earl Killian says:

    Robert said, “I can’t see how PHEV are going to solve anything. Unless a lot of ther things happen at the same time they are just a way of increasing coal consumption.

    The experts disagree with you. Read the technical reports I linked to in the article. Coal plants operate primarily at one level of output (the so-called baseload). The utility experts suggest most of the power for PHEVs in the short-term will come from natural gas, which is more typically used for variations in load. As PHEVs proliferate, I believe that wind turbines should be built in proportion to the PHEV load, since wind is one of the most PHEV-synergistic and cheapest forms of power (cheaper than coal these days).

    Robert said, “Meanwhile global oil consumption will continue unabated, subject to existing supply limitations.

    Oil consumption is now essentially determined by production and nothing else. The price will rise until enough demand is destroyed to match production. In this environment, the question is whether transportation is severely curtailed, or whether we substitute non-greenhouse ways to travel.

    Robert said, “Of course, if we could somehow make solar PV, wind, etc. cost competitive with coal then coal use would subside. This challenge is already on the table, with or without PHEV, and is not being taken up.

    This is wrong. I plan to write about this next week. Briefly then, let me explain. First, wind is already cheaper than new coal (references to be provided). Second, it confuses new energy prices with old energy prices. Getting new renewable energy to be cheaper than new fossil energy changes new construction; it does very little to the sunk-cost old energy power plants. One cannot drive them out of business for several reasons. Price certainly won’t do it. Only government action is going to close a sunk-cost coal plant.

    Robert said, “Joe – you need to stop getting distracted. This site should be focussed on emission reductions not ways to dig ourselves in deeper.

    I second John Hollenberg’s reply.

  23. Earl Killian says:

    Ronald, the AC Propulsion paper suggest you want 20 kW of electrical output, which is best done with a 35 kW engine, factoring in alternator efficiency. That’s about 26 horsepower, so the lower end of the range you gave is perhaps most appropriate. I am not sure what you are trying to accomplish with the control algorithm you suggest though.

  24. hapa says:

    @earl killian

    As far as engine starts and stale fuel … I don’t really see a problem though. Perhaps PHEVs will have, instead of an EV button, an ICE button. Drivers can use the ICE button once a month to see if it still works…

    no, the easier thing to do is what’s already done with air conditioning, work the for-maintenance stuff into regular operation. for A/C, it’s hooked to the defroster so the A/C gets some work during the winter. for a PHEV it’d probably take one subroutine. “if (today – gasLastUsed) > recommendedInterval then doRunICE()”.

    ok now this is from the FAQ:

    Don’t PHEVs cost more to buy? How long does it take to break even?
    PHEVs require a larger battery pack compared to a hybrid, and the additional batteries do add cost. A mid-size sedan with 20 miles of electric range (a PHEV-20) would require 6.7 kWh of additional batteries, costing an extra $2000. If this amount were financed with a 5-year auto loan at 5.5%, the monthly payment would be $38. Using today’s gasoline prices ($4.08/gallon), electric operation might reduce the car’s monthly fuel expenses by $57, leaving a net savings of $19. As gasoline prices increase, the savings increase. With a loan or lease paying for the batteries, small savings begin in the first month, and increase at the end of the loan term. The resale value of the car is also increased.

    “just finance it.” sheesh. what a thing to be suggesting at this point in time. will there really be such easy credit available to everybody?

    apart from that, if a PHEV costs anything like $8,000 more than a 30mpg non-hybrid car with the same interior space — i figure the plug-in only breaks even if gas averages $7+/gal over time of ownership. and the gas-only car’s higher depreciation might be canceled out by its lower insurance and finance costs.

    this is an estimate, done quickly, but i think disproving it falls on advocates of PHEVs. we’re gonna be broke for years is how it looks right now.

    and… why hasn’t europe gone electric.

    everyone may have noticed that europe, already well-supplied with 40+ mpg small family vehicles, bet on a “fuel of the future” instead? to some famous results, including “splash-and-dash” and “indonesian deforestation.”

  25. Earl Killian says:

    hapa, why are you talking about $8,000 when the cost delta for a PHEV-20 is smaller than that? As far as financing, that is the fair way to compare things with different up-front and operational costs, as it takes into account the time value of money. Just computing the number of years to breakeven with simple division would be generous to the PHEV. Using 5.5% annual interest avoids that inaccuracy. As far as auto loans, I got the interest rate from my credit union, which is still making loans.

    And actually Europe went electric a long time ago in their rail and subway systems. Decent transit is one reason cars are less important there than the US. The wealthy don’t need to worry about efficiency; the middle class either drives a very small car or takes public transit. Tell middle-class Americans to do those things and you’ll probably fail. It seems more sensible to offer them something that will succeed.

  26. hapa says:

    the cost delta between HEV and PHEV now is above $8,000; calcars.org has a recent page where they estimate mass production could bring the difference between the two hybrid designs down to $3000-5000.

    that means, and i just put most of the night working this through, that a light, efficiency, gas-only car with the same interior space (and more hauling power) is yet more thousands cheaper than the PHEV.

    how far into the future are you talking about? 5 years?

    As far as financing, that is the fair way to compare things with different up-front and operational costs, as it takes into account the time value of money.

    as i figure it, even at an average of $9/gal over eight years, today’s prius costs almost $10,000 more to operate than a honda fit. you can finance that if you want and just put it on people’s tabs, with their health care, and their retirement, and their increasingly regressive taxes, and housing, and all their other costs. only, no matter what your credit union’s doing, there’s no pile right now, it’s a bonfire, and it’s an increasingly small number of people who haven’t seen that yet.

  27. hapa says:

    ah ah ah error. too late at night to be doing this.

    the $10,000 number is for a smaller class of car, the kei car.

    the honda came out about $3700 under the prius. a mass-production plug-in would probably come near the 8-year cost of the current fit, at $9, but lose to the fit by thousands at a $6 average.

    have to wait and see what honda’s about to announce with their smaller hybrids in september.

    the part about useful interior space still stands.

  28. hapa says:

    none of this is tight research. i needed to look at the numbers, including sticker price, interest, insurance, taxes and fees, costs of repair, at some different gas prices. i hope somebody does it more thoroughly. how i see it, even today’s priuses will be tough to resell in 2015, so we have a gap to bridge.…

  29. Joe says:

    Hapa: This is a FAQ. BTW. you are VERY wrong about Prius resale in 2015. By then, with gasoline over $7 a gallon, it is SUVs, light trucks, and non-hybrids that will have no resale value.

  30. Joe says:

    Hapa — you assume plugs in will thousands more than hybrids in 2015. I suspect there will be battery leasing that will reduce the differential considerably.

  31. Earl Killian says:

    Hapa, you can make up numbers and then do calculations with them, but the problem was the making up part. At the Consumer Reports website, I notice that the Toyota Camry V6 is $29,839 while the Toyota Camry Hybrid is $30,667. I used CR because they tend to price similar sets of options. The options on most cars can make as much difference as hybrid or not. The reality of today’s world is that people are prioritizing efficiency over wheel trim. Hybrids fly off of dealer lots and there are waiting lists.

  32. hapa says:

    @joe

    the priuses’s’s batteries will need replacing. if we’re going plug-in, and i agree that we are, today’s prius might not look like that great a deal to a buyer in 201 when compared to ready-to-plug-in cars with highly optimized ICEs with fresh-new-improved batteries.

    obviously a wide selection of today’s cars will be worth little more than their weight in metal. my point lately seems to be that today’s smallest wagon-vans can depreciate massively in relative value without costing their owners much absolute money and the buyer doesn’t have to sacrifice utility. today’s green cars are miserable bad working vehicles for the price.

    @earl:

    The reality of today’s world is that people are prioritizing efficiency over wheel trim.

    i’m not making up numbers. i’m looking at them differently. the camry isn’t the top selling car now; that’s the honda civic, 30mpg, base price $16,000. my guess is if we could fill every showroom floor right now with 10 million honda fits, 10 million civics, 10 million priuses, there’d be priuses left over, and some of the prius sales would be due to constrained supply for the other two.

  33. hapa says:

    *201? no: 2015.

  34. Joe says:

    Sorry, hapa — but in the real world, you can’t even buy a new or used Prius right now. Too much demand. I don’t know if the batteries are going to need to be replaced or not. But good luck trying to sell that old SUV of yours.

  35. Earl Killian says:

    hapa, according to ABC News,

    While a conventional car sits on the dealer’s lot for an average of 65 days before it sells, a Toyota Prius, the most popular hybrid, lasts just six days — or sometimes only six hours. … Ford Escape Hybrids are the next stop, but there aren’t any to see. Even though the dealership placed requests, the manufacturers can’t keep up with the high market demand. The wait is six months long. … How about a used hybrid? At the largest CarMax retailer in the country in Laurel, Md., there was not one hybrid on the lot to test drive. Out of its 25,000 vehicles nationwide, CarMax has only 50 hybrids in total.

    On what basis do you say that Prii batteries will need replacing? According to howstuffworks on Prius batteries,

    And Toyota claims that not one has required a battery replacement due to malfunction or “wearing out.” The only replacement batteries sold–at the retail price of $3000–have been for cars that were involved in accidents. Toyota further claims that the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery packs used in all Prius models are expected to last the life of the car with very little to no degradation in power capability.

    There are Civic non-hybrid models as expensive as $20,710. Again using Consumer Reports as a guide, since they price similar option packages, the hybrid is $22,400 and the non-hybrid is $19,610. Stop comparing apples and oranges.

  36. Dirk in Holland says:

    I live in Holland and people might be surprised to learn that middle class people have large BMW’s and MB’s and Audi’s…the very rich drive Ferraris and Porsches and Lambos, and high end CLK’s.

    I own an Audi A6 TurboDiesel 6 speed (1997) fully loaded, leather, bose stereo, etc etc. At 100 mph on the autobahn cruising in 6th gear I get 40mpg. Rock solid at that speed because of sport suspension and good roads. Diesel here is cheaper than gas but road tax is higher so unless you drive a lot you don’t save much. Gas right now is 9 dollars a gallon.

    I am retired so don’t drive that much so bought a couple of small scooters for me and wife to zip around the villages. Only time we use car is when weather is bad.

    The hottest thing selling here right now are electric bicycles and you can Google SPARTA ION to see some great models. Of course we have paralleling bike paths to all roads here so its more conducive to enjoyable biking. The Sparta Ion has a 25kph top speed but you can choose econ or full for up hills. Also peddling only if you have to…..range is up to 100 km which is enough for most people. charging time 1.5 hours.

    Another thing our govt has done to ease traffic tieups and save fuel is to build all roundabouts instead of intersections with traffic lights…makes traffic flow more smoothly……….yes, it costs us billions but we love our country and don’t mind spending tax money to do it.

    Even with the high cost of gas here, the freeways are packed daily almost up to the point of gridlock. Right now there are loads of RV’s on the highway for vacation time. People have money and I don’t hear much complaining about gas prices.

  37. Daryl says:

    One major hurtle being addressed by automakers, (they are all working on it) is vehicle response to climate conditions ( vehicles must be able to operate in the range of 40C to -40C ), here in Canada the EV or PHEV is not yet feasible beause of the extreme operating temperatures and the need for passenger cabin heating.

    The same in regards to cooling in the southern latitudes, so that the HEV needs to generate constant power supply ( the engine runs constantly when the outside conditions require climate control on the passenger cabin). Batteries loose their efficency with extremes in operating temperatures, a problem that has also slowed hydrogen fuel cell applications.

    Winter driving conditions also impact overall performance, the combination of low vehicle weight and road conditions can remove all benefits of electric vehicles simply by making them unsafe in those conditions.

    There is real world data on the efficency of Hybrids in climate ranges here
    http://www.hybridexperience.ca/

    Make note of the distance travelled versus fuel economy based on temperature and compare to average daily commute. Getting 12l/100km (19.6 Mpg) on short distances in cold weather does not sound like a savings to me.

    So a solution for climate change must respond to climate changes, If I buy a car in CA I want to be able to move it to Minnesota in December.

    Now luckily most people live where it is temperate, so it is still a good solution for certain geographical regions, it is not yet globally applicable and hence the reluctance to market by automakers ( offering region restricted vehicle models is a recipe for disaster for automakers not only on a PR level but a legal liability level as well, hey cannot restrict where people take the vehicle, why do you think there is so much resistence to CA mandates for EV deployments?) It is not about the oil, or some sinister oil company scheme or plot to stop the development of EV technologies, it is about the product and the applicable markets, leveraging mature technologies, product viability and liability exposure.

  38. hapa says:

    @joe: i’ve been commenting here a couple months and you think i drive an SUV, or often! i thought you had more smarts than sorting people into “hummer” and “prius” piles. a little longer view, a transitional view.

    @earl: consumer reports’s approach is just as addicted to cheap credit and cheap oil as anybody else’s. what they review reflects a situation that has already gone away, in this country.

    sure, the civic EX is near the price of the civic hybrid. i don’t see a lot of EXs around, tho, and this is a very “honda” neighborhood of mostly homeowners. ever wonder why the car companies don’t break out their sales figures by trim level?

    @both: yes there’s demand for priuses. there’s a waiting list for almost every reputable high efficiency car because the manufacturers have drastically screwed up.

  39. Earl Killian says:

    hapa, my point is that you cannot claim a $10,000 price differential by comparing models that have different features.

  40. Joe says:

    Hapa — I don’t think you have an SUV, I was speaking generically. The reason Prius’s will have a great resale value five years from now is because there are so many SUVs out there that have lost half their value, and will probably lose the rest of their value when gasoline gets past six dollars a gallon.

  41. Dirk in Holland says:

    Joe said. s because there are so many SUVs out there that have lost half their value, and will probably lose the rest of their value when gasoline gets past six dollars a gallon.

    >>>

    I wouldn’t bet on it Joe, there are quite a few people with big SUV’s here in Europe where gas is 9 dollars a gallon….I don’t see them driving any less……of course we aren’t up to our necks in debt either.

  42. hapa says:

    earl, the $10,000 price differential was a mistake. it was corrected.

    ah ah ah error.… the $10,000 number is for a smaller class of car, the kei car.

    the honda [fit] came out about $3700 under the prius. a mass-production plug-in would probably come near the 8-year cost of the current fit, at $9, but lose to the fit by thousands at a $6 average.

    i have the feeling you have an argument with someone else you want to win through talking with me. if you say we can only compare the same trim levels of the same make and model of car — cup holder to cup holder, heat zone to heat zone — does that mean the prius is incomparable? nobody’s allowed to ask whether it stands on its own merits, at overall cost, because there’s nothing just like it on the road?

    in the meantime we’re also not allowed to notice that the “4-banger” hybrids all have s*** for trunk space and cargo ability. which will most definitely improve. in a couple years. and in the present, people inching closer to losing their homes and jobs both in the same year can’t get rid of their personal four-wheeled chunk of “irrational exuberance” and it’s eating away their pocket money.

    i forgot to address the battery question. we’ll have to find out if “the life of the car” extends to the end of its first decade of use and beyond. i read a couple places estimating 20% loss. would that be a 20% cut in city mpg? 7 mpg? probly not that much huh.

    i like how battery leasing works. eventually i hope that batteries are standardized enough that a buyer — fleet or individual — can buy a “blank slate” car and pick brand and function of batteries themselves. this will address the temperature problem, too, allowing cold weather folks to easily switch winter (heated) and summer (ordinary) batteries with a quick stop at a mechanic.

  43. hapa says:

    joe: i think sub-20 mpg SUVs will tank this year except for people who actually use them to pull or carry. there are plenty of other AWD options, much more gas thrifty, especially the highlander hybrid, if what you need is to climb ice mountains and bash through swamps carrying 50 kids and a piano. basically i think the V8 is in trouble in general, right now, and much thanks to wall street and washington, all the bills are coming due at once.

  44. Joe says:

    Hapa — If you don’t have links, don’t cite stuff you remember reading.

    Dirk — I think you miss the point. Yes Europe has much higher gasoline prices. Any you still have (some) SUVs. But not only do we have a lot more SUVs here, but we now have hundreds of thousands that are beginning to flood the used-car market. In a few years, I can’t imagine why anyone would buy a new SUV, since they will be giving away the used ones.

  45. Robert says:

    To Earl and John H

    Thanks for your replies to my earlier post, but I still think all this focus on things like PHEV is just a way of ignoring the big picture. CO2 emissions in the US (and the world as a whole) are rising and will continue to rise within, ultimately, the limitations set by the availability of coal,oil and gas:

    http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/trends/emis/usa.htm
    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/glo.htm

    Yes, we can build wind farms, CSP and so on, but the danger is that these are simply additional energy sources. The world has to find a way to leave most of the remaining oil, coal and gas in the ground – forever.

  46. hapa says:

    @joe: oosh. sorry. yeah… the prius battery itself, it seems like consensus is that their computer keeps the battery in top performance up to 200K miles. i’m still looking for where i saw “80%” — considering all yesterday’s reading was about plug-in kits, and articles about the stock prius cite the computer’s success at battery management as coming from its stubborn 45%-75% charge window –

    http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/hybrid-batteries-none-the-worse-for-wear-cga.htm

    hee hee — i got the 80% from this FAQ itself. it just got jumbled in.

    right. so the stock prius battery lives forever because the computer babies it. the risk of tiny battery performance loss comes in with the full charge-and-discharge of the intermediate battery in a plug-in kit.

    then take the beatings the prii are taking at the hands of taxi drivers into consideration and they’re a good bet — especially with the possibility of much better/cheaper plug-in conversions a few years from now — as long as nothing radical happens regarding gasoline use. unlikely but much less so than one would have thought.…

  47. HippyGourmet says:

    Here’s an informative segment on CalCars.org – a group dedicated to convincing automakers that plug-in hybrids need to be a part of their line up:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BvaFjdNl-E

  48. John Hollenberg says:

    Does the Prius have lower CO2 emissions than the Tessla Roadster? I came across this interesting calculation on a Tessla Motors Blog:

    “The only way to make an apples to apples comparison is to compare grams of CO2 emitted per mile traveled. Andrew has given us the figure 0.321 kwh per mile. The average emissions in the US to generate electricity is 1.4 pounds of CO2 per kwh based on the mix of generation sources. Therefore the Tesla emits 0.321 x 1,4 x 454 or 204 grams of CO2 for each mile travelled. Let’s go back to the lowly Escort that gets 30 mpg. A gallon of gasoline has a mass of 6.3 lbs. Gasoline has 2 hydrogen atoms for each carbon so gasoline is 12/14 carbon or a gallon of gasoline has 5.4 pounds of carbon. Carbon dioxide is 44/12 as heavy as gasoline so a gallon of gasoline equals 5.4 x 44/12 pounds of carbon dioxide or 19.8 pounds. The Escort has CO2 emissions of 19.8/30 x 454 grams per mile or 299.6 grams of CO2 per mile. The Tesla has 32% lower carbon foot print than an Escort. Now let’s compare the Tesla to a Prius that gets 50 MPG. The Prius has CO2 emissions of 179.8 grams per mile or 12% lower than our Tesla. This is the only real comparison to make. It is time for Tesla to update the website and admit that if a Prius has a size 8 carbon footprint the Tesla has a size 9.”

    Quote is from Lindsay Leveen in a comment on this page:

    http://www.teslamotors.com/blog4/?p=67

    Any comments on whether his calculations are correct? Of course, I realize that it all depends on where you are getting your energy. If you can get the electricity from low/zero carbon renewable sources, you would do a lot better. It also doesn’t take into account benefits like achieving energy independence.

  49. Earl Killian says:

    John, his calculation leaves out some things. It compares Prius tailpipe emissions to Tesla smokestack emissions, but what about refinery and mining emissions? The best way to do this is to run GREET, ANL’s wells-to-wheels spreadsheet. However it is a pain to use directly. A simpler way to get GREET data for vehicles is to do to
    http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/sbs.htm
    Click on 2008, Toyota, and then Prius. You will see that the annual tons (not tonnes) of CO2e is 4.0. If you read the fine print, that is for 15,000 miles, so doing 4.0*907184.74/15e3 gives 241.9 grams / mile.

    How about the EV? Click “Compare side-by-side”, then 2002, Toyota, RAV4-EV. See that the RAV4-EV is 3.9 tons or 235.9 g CO2e/mi, and this is comparing a SUV to a sedan. The primary reason to look this vehicle is because the Tesla is not available. We can scale the 235.9 by the ratio of the Wh/mi for the RAV4-EV and the Tesla. If you cick on the “original window sticker”, you see ratings of 27 and 34 in kWh/100mi (a strange unit–don’t ask me to explain it), or 270 and 340 Wh/mi. They don’t combine them for you, but the standard weighting is 55% city and 45% hwy. That comes out to 301.5 Wh/mi. So if we scale the 235.9 by 321/302 giving 251 gCO2e/mi. That is 4% more than the Prius. Tesla pays a price for building a Ferrari competitor, apparently; being less efficient than a SUV is “wow”.

    Of course, in Tesla’s home state of California, the CO2e/kWh is about half of what it is in the rest of the U.S., so Tesla drivers in California will be getting 125 gCO2e/mi. That’s an indication of what is possible as the U.S. grid is cleaned up.

    I recommend you study the fueleconomy.gov web page, as it is filled with useful stuff (e.g. air pollution score, annual fuel cost based on frequently updated nationwide gasoline prices, and so on). You can even customize the annual miles and fuel prices to your liking.

    The annual fuel cost for the Prius is given as $1335. The RAV4-EV is $362, and again that is an apples to oranges form factor comparison.

    P.S. thank you for your helpful comments at Climate Progress.

  50. John Hollenberg says:

    Earl, thanks for the additional info helping to make the proper comparison. I can’t afford the Tesla anyway, so my next car will probably be the 3rd generation Prius coming out next year.

  51. Daryl (this should be confusing, but I have two “r”s in my name),
    Canadian climate issues are not a serious challenge for electric vehicles. I have been driving plug-in battery EVs in Ottawa, Canada for about 30 years now, year-round, from -38 C to +39 C (based on readings from on-board thermometers reading shaded outdoor temperature in a fender well). I use a bit of removable insulation around the batteries, so they stay between 20 and 30 degrees C year-round. A manufacturer would supply something with more finesse. I used to install battery warming blankets, but don’t bother anymore as they were seldom used. Cooling fans during our 30 degrees + summer days are of more value. That’s all for lead-acid batteries (all I can afford so far). Different technologies will have different thermal sweet spots, and the designs will take that into account.

    Cabin heating in my current EV is provided via 3000 watts of ceramic heaters, which provide heat within seconds on even very cold days. I have also used programmable pre-heaters that warm the cabin before I get into the car. The GM EV-1 had a cabin pre-conditioning feature (mostly about pre-cooling) that would activate before you went out to the vehicle.

    In my previous EV, we had lots of battery weight over the drive wheels, which made for superb traction. Intelligent distribution of battery weight can improve vehicle handling.

    By the way, not all gas cars are designed for Canadian winters. Corvettes are unsafe on wintry roads as the weight is in the nose and the drive wheels are at the rear, and they fishtail madly. I have had Renaults that could not defrost the windshield, as was the case with VW Beetles that belonged to friends of mine. We make allowances for climate changes in our gassers today: installing block heaters, battery blankets, supplementary defrosters, bigger or even parallel starting batteries, changing to lighter oils and transmission fluids, using gas-line anti-freeze, changing the engine coolant – even the windshield washer fluid.

    BEVs produce much less waste heat than combustion engines, making less work for air conditioners in the summer, and presumably the PHEV will have similar characteristics.

    In short, with forethought and good design, BEVs and PHEVs will be better at dealing with climatic conditions than the gassers they will be replacing.

    In the next few weeks we are going to do some serious research on hybridizing my wife’s 2002 Saturn Vue, which will turn it from an ICE to a PHEV. Should be an interesting project. (My wife bought the Vue partly because Saturn announced there would be a hybrid version of it later, which GM never delivered on that platform – the BAS system is a joke, not a hybrid).

    Darryl
    current daily driver – electric 1973 Porsche 914 conversion
    (my son drives a human/electric hybrid bicycle to commute)

  52. Jon Erik Larson says:

    Thank you very much for this most intelligent explanation of plug-in hybrids. I believe that you cover all the bases. As a professional who has worked with electric power companies for over twenty years, I am concerned that the assumptions we are making concerning improvements (environmentally) in power generation are, for many parts of the country, optimistic. Wind power is great where it is great — in the Pacific Northwest, possibly in the Northern Southeast, and in the flatlands running from the Texas Panhandle to the Canadian border. But, here in the Northeast, wind, for the most part, is a highly volatile power resource requiring enormous spinning reserve capacity (spewing out hydrocarbons but generating no useful electricity) to deal with wind’s intermittent output. I really wonder whether the construction of “green” generating resources in this part of the country really improves air quality. Adding plug-in hybrid load out here seems to me to require more output (even off-peak) from “intermediate” generating resources which, in this part of the country, are pretty dirty. I guess that I find it credible that plug-in hybrids will produce an environmental benefit here (at least if the catalytic converters are kept warm) but I question whether the benefit will be significant and worth the added cost.

    [EK: wind for PHEVs would not require spinning reserve capacity, IMO, only feedback to manage charging in response to what is being generated. I'll follow-up in a separate comment later.]

  53. Jon Erik Larson says:

    Clean-Up Costs in the Event of Accidents

    A friend reported the following to me. So, I did not witness this event. So, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the following:

    A friend of mine witnessed a collision between a Prius and an SUV. The SUV got the better of the Prius and, evidently, demolished much of the battery bank. According to my friend, the police restricted access to the road and an environmental clean-up crew needed to come in to clean the street of the debris created when the batteries were punctured. Perhaps, the town over-reacted. I do not know. Does anybody know whether the contents of the batteries represent a serious environmental risk if they are not contained? Are the costs of cleaning up the debris from collisions included in the various analyses of the benefits of plug-in hybrids? (I am amazed that I only have heard of one such collision in my home state of New Jersey which, I believe, contains all of the worst drivers in the United States.)

  54. Earl Killian says:

    Jon Erik Larson, thank you for joining the conversation; your expertise in electric power is most welcome here. You wrote, ‘Adding plug-in hybrid load out here seems to me to require more output (even off-peak) from “intermediate” generating resources which, in this part of the country, are pretty dirty.

    Let me take this as a question about how clean EVs and PHEVs are when charged from the Northeast grid. I used the EPA’s power profiler to lookup the NPCC eGRID subregion and found that NOx emissions are 1.0 lbs/MWh vs. 2.1 nationwide, SOx are 2.4 vs. 5.4, and CO2 emissions are 909 vs. 1363. If you then go to http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/sbs.htm click on 2002, then Toyota, and then RAV4 EV, you will get data on what a pure electric SUV does nationwide. The annual tons of CO2 is 3.9. If you scale that by the EPA power profiler NPCC to US ratio, you get 2.6 tons. The Air Pollution Score is 10 out 10, so the lower NOx and SOx won’t improve an already perfect score. It looks pretty good to me. The more electric miles in New England, the cleaner the air and the less greenhouse pollution produced.

    While you’re at the EPA website, next click on Compare side-by-side, then 2002, then Toyota, then RAV4 2WD, and finally Automatic…. This is a pretty apples to apples comparison, comparing the electric and gasoline versions of the same vehicle. Note the CO2 emissions of the gasser are 8.0 tons per year (vs. the 2.6 estimated above) and the Air Pollution Score is only 2 out 10.

    Using the pure EV to represent the electric side of PHEVs, the numbers look like quite an improvement to me, both nationwide and in the Northeast in particular.

  55. Earl Killian says:

    Jon Erik Larson, a quick Google search found this:
    http://www.state.nj.us/dca/dfs/priusrev.pdf

  56. Jon Erik Larson says:

    Thanks, Earl.

    I guess that the accident that my friend witnessed must have been a side-on collision. That is the only way that I can imagine that the battery pack could have been punctured. (The only accident that I have had during the past 20 years is just one such collision. A person turned left into my side as I was proceeding straight through an intersection. New Jersey drivers!)

    It is curious that the Toyota manual does not contain any cautionary language concerning clean-up.

  57. Jon Erik Larson says:

    Hi Earl,

    I’ve now done as you suggested and I agree that, were the plug-in hybrid to be charged with power generated by the average power plant in New Jersey, there would be a net environmental benefit. But I believe that I was making a different point.

    Charging of hybrids will represent an increase in utility loads. And, unlike some industrial processes, the load duration curve for charging plug-in hybrids is likely to be highly skewed. (I personally am not a big fan of load duration curves. They do not take into account the volatility of demand.) Fortunately, the skewing generally will be towards true night-time demand — off off-peak. But even the EPRI-NRDC study (http://mydocs.epri.com/docs/public/PHEV-ExecSum-vol1.pdf) on plug-in hybrids shows an increase in daytime load presumably caused by charging plug-in hybrids while their owners are at work.

    The beneficial effect of having the charging take place at night (or, better still, using smart grid technology to control when charging occurs) is that it flattens the average load served by power generators and allows more efficient (and, therefore, less polluting) power plants to be dispatched to charge the vehicles.

    Of course, the reverse is true for daytime charging. The daytime charging presumably would cause a rise in the loads that today are served by the most highly polluting power plants. (A fleet of vehicles in the parking lot of a suburban office building all being charged on the afternoon of a 95-degree day would really lean on the system.)

    Now, with smart grid technology, we might be able simply to prevent people from charging their cars when “green” resources are unavailable. So, for example, if one were to want to charge one’s car on a day that the wind does not blow (or at a time when the wind is not blowing) or if their are insufficient “green” resources to charge all of the vehicles seeking to be charged, the utility might simply shut off service to the plug-in hybrid’s charger. Also, we might simply require office buildings where charging facilities are installed also to have solar panels installed.

    But, to the best of my knowledge, the technologies that actually are being put in place by those utilities facilitating some form or another of smart grid technology are not up to those kinds of tasks. Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison definitely are not installing equipment that sophisticated. The smart grid equipment currently being installed by Duke Energy and Xcel Energy might have these capabilities. It is unclear from their literature.

    I have attended the last two conferences held by the Smart Grid organization. At these conferences, I have been told (a) that the most sophisticated smart grid equipment (equipment that would permit real time management of flows to a plug-in hybrid charger, or a water heater, or an air conditioner, or the defrost cycle equipment in a refrigerator) requires enormous communications bandwidth and that that bandwidth is expensive and (b) that the software required to process all of this information had not yet (as of last January) even reached its alpha testing phase — much less beta. (Plenty of software is out there that can present daily usage information even to the tiniest retail customer. As I understand it, the real problems are presenting (and processing) this information in real time and development of the software that will permit the utility to address YOUR plug-in hybrid charger, YOUR refrigerator, dryer and washing machine, YOUR refrigerator. Unless things have changed very quickly (or, unless, for commercial reasons, the software vendors at the Smart Grid conference were not giving me the straight scoop about the capabilities of their software), there is not likely to be a smart grid anytime soon that matches plug-in hybrid loads to “green” resources.

    Even if we did have the smart grid technology that would permit utilities to control when plug-in hybrids are charged, I am not sure that the vehicle owners would stand for it. I myself would be pretty upset if I were not permitted to charge my vehicle on a hot May night because the wind did not happen to be blowing that night.

    Please note that I am not, in principle, opposed to plug-in hybrids. What concerns me is that we are rushing headlong into adopting this technology assuming that doing so will have substantial air quality benefits. We rushed headlong into promoting the production of corn-based ethanol (at enormous cost to tax payers) and we now know that the production and use of that fuel actually has resulted in a net decline in air quality. (It is imponderable to me that, after the publication of the studies demonstrating that point, we continue to subsidize the production of corn-based ethanol.)

    I am not persuaded by the EPRI/NRDC study of plug-in hybrids. The study makes optimistic assumptions about the future fleet of power plants that will be used, in part, to charge plug-in hybrids. One of the technologies that the study assumes will be implemented is IGCC (“clean coal”) technology. But the Department of Energy has abandoned the IGCC demonstration project and, without government support, it seems to me unlikely that the electric power industry will continue to fund the development of IGCC technology.

    The EPRI/NRDC study does present (and discuss) an alternative scenario where there is little change in the technologies used to generate power. But the benefit shown in that scenario is so tiny as to make me wonder why anybody would spend the money to implement it.

    I also note that while EPRI’s letters introducing each of the parts of the study are bullish about plug-in hybrids, NRDC’s letters are far more qualified. (I wonder whether they were embarrassed to have the name of their organization on the study.)

    So, to sum up, my concern is that we are not going to be charging plug-in hybrids with power generated by the best (or even the average) power plant. We are going to be charging them with power plants that can be cycled and dispatched for about four to six hours a day. Those kinds of power plants are worse than average (and often are old). The heat rate of an old clunker can be over 50% higher than the heat rate of a spanking new cutting edge combined cycle natural gas-fired power plant. EPRI says that that is not the way that it is going to happen but, I am not so sure. Even Tom Hayden said that widespread construction of nuclear power plants would yield electricity “too cheap to meter.” Years later, we discovered design flaws, construction fraud and other issues that made our nuclear power plants into the most expensive power plants ever built. If we really are going to make half of our vehicle fleet into hybrids, then let us make certain that we build the infrastructure to make that decision into a blessing and not a curse.

  58. Earl Killian says:

    Jon Erik Larson, there is a start-up that is pursuing public and semi-public (e.g. condo) charging station infrastructure for PHEVs:
    http://www.coulombtech.com/
    They have solutions for the current absence of smart grid technology.

    Remember that in the short-term PHEV load is insignificant. In the long-term we should make sure the smart grid technology is there to deal with the PHEV load (e.g. 240 TWh/yr in 2030, 730 TWh/yr in 2040, 1,000 TWh/yr in 2050). In the medium-term (2020? perhaps 20 TWh/yr) I think hacks can help us muddle through.

    Also, my utility has an E-9 rate for EV charging: http://www.pge.com/tariffs/pdf/E-9.pdf
    Note that peak is 14:00 to 21:00 M-F summer. Off-peak is 00:00 to 07:00. For a separate meter for the EV, summer off-peak is 5.7 cents vs. peak 28.4 cents per kWh, winter off-peak is 6.4 cents vs. part-peak of 10.2 cents per kWh. The 5x difference in summer peak vs. off-peak is likely to be strong encouragement for folks to use the charge-after-midnight feature of their PHEV.

    Jon wrote, “Now, with smart grid technology, we might be able simply to prevent people from charging their cars when “green” resources are unavailable. So, for example, if one were to want to charge one’s car on a day that the wind does not blow (or at a time when the wind is not blowing) or if their are insufficient “green” resources to charge all of the vehicles seeking to be charged, the utility might simply shut off service to the plug-in hybrid’s charger.

    That is basically what I was suggesting.

    Jon wrote, “Also, we might simply require office buildings where charging facilities are installed also to have solar panels installed.

    Interesting idea! Parking lots are often good places for PV, and they end up shading cars, which reduces AC. There are a number of “park and ride” lots in California with PV shading for the vehicles and chargers. For example:
    http://www.evchargernews.com/regions/95687_6.htm

    Jon wrote, “Even if we did have the smart grid technology that would permit utilities to control when plug-in hybrids are charged, I am not sure that the vehicle owners would stand for it. I myself would be pretty upset if I were not permitted to charge my vehicle on a hot May night because the wind did not happen to be blowing that night.

    Are you sure? If you were a Coulomb Tech customer (link above), you would have the option of paying a “charge anytime” rate, which would be high, or a “charge based on availability” rate, which would be low. I would choose the low rate, and suffer the indignity of 1 more visit to the gas station each year.

    Also, you talk about the cost of smart grid technology, but Coulomb Tech plans to use a single cell phone connection per block, and then local wireless to get it to cars/chargers. This seems like a nice low-cost way to do it and aggregate data.

    Jon, have you looked at the PNL study linked to in the FAQ? They look at some of the issues of concern to you.

    Jon wrote, “We are going to be charging them with power plants that can be cycled and dispatched for about four to six hours a day.

    That may happen in some cases, but I doubt that the overall picture will find that to be as significant. Conversely, you may find that PHEVs in many cases use power that would be “spinning” otherwise. That’s a freebie, right? Besides, a lot of the plants of the type you mention above are NG, which is quite clean (even though fossil).

    Ultimately I would like to see this country to find a way to build wind power proportional to the PHEV load, and charge PHEVs following the wind energy produced. That is the long-term solution, IMO.

  59. Jon Erik Larson says:

    Hi Earl,

    Thanks again for your very intelligent and thoughtful response. I need to think about some of what you had to say before I can respond appropriately.

    But, I do not think that the addition of wind resources needs to be proportionate with PHEV load. After all, there are wind resources that are great (truly great) base load resources. They exist in the Dakotas, much of Nebraska, Kansas, and the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. Let’s build all of the windmills that we can in these places and the extension cords to get the power they generate to the population centers.

  60. Earl Killian says:

    Jon, my hope (not a prediction) is that the US electrical supply might turn out something like this:
    http://www.killian.com/earl/climate/ElectricityScenario.gif
    but with other technologies added in as they become ready to deploy (e.g. geothermal, ocean, high-altitude wind).

    Note I separated wind into two categories, one for plug-ins, one general electrical consumption. CSP is big because of the possibility of TES, but whether one builds HVDC from Arizona to Massachusetts and New Jersey is unclear. Offshore wind may be what fuels much of the East coast.

    The negawatts model in the spreadsheet assumes the US adopts the efficiency standards of the 10 best states at the Federal level. The model starts out with the US population divided into two groups: efficient (initially the 10 most efficient states) and inefficient (initially the 40 least efficient states). Population growth goes into the efficient group (since it is housed in new, efficient buildings), and also each year 5% of the inefficient group moves to the efficient group (e.g. remodels that have to meet current standards). Note that total power consumption declines until 2025, despite population growth and EVs.

    Well, one can hope…

  61. Jon Erik Larson says:

    Earl,

    I am working on framing my questions for you in a more intelligent manner. I am poring over the data in the EPRI/NRDC study so that I can frame my questions properly.

    One thing that the EPRI/NRDC report does not report (and, God only knows why they would not have reported this) is that (very much speaking in favor of plug-in hybrids) catalytic converters evidently are not very effective for the first four or five miles of driving after a cold start-up. Assuming that 70% or more of all vehicle trips are after cold starts and are for fewer than 10 miles, build-out of a plug-in hybrid fleet would have a substantial benefit of eliminating the pollutants not captured by catalytic converters during the first few miles driven after a cold start.

    I asked the friend who identified this benefit whether he knew if plug-in hybrids contain heating elements that warm the catalytic converter before the internal combustion engine kicks in. He did not know. Do you?

    Since the EPRI-NRDC study does not explicitly identify this benefit, did they take it into account? If they did not, then the air quality benefits that they calculate even in the conservative (i.e., no change in power generation technology) case are low. (I know that EPRI asserts that the benefits in the conservative case — as calculated — are substantial. But my review of the reams of data laying out the results of this case suggests otherwise. My dim view of that case becomes much brighter if EPRI left out an important additional benefit.)

  62. Jon Erik Larson says:

    Hi again, Earl,

    I very much would like to see the situation pictured in your graph transpire. Based on the fact that the graph contemplates that the only traditional base load generation will be nuclear and dam-based hydro-electric, I assume that you contemplate that there will be storage technologies that permit us to convert solar and wind power into base load power.

    Considering that the graph eliminates all fossil-fuel resources in about a quarter of a century, I am assuming that the scenario would require the full scale build-out of a state-of-the-art smart grid and that the storage devices in fact would be the batteries in the plug-in hybrids.

    I would love to see it. If it happens, it will be the most dramatic change in power delivery technology in this country since Sam Insul decided to go with central generating stations and Westinghouse for AC power transmission — throwing out the local generating stations and the limited DC power transmission to which General Electric (and Thomas Edison) then were committed.

  63. Earl Killian says:

    Jon, there are several ways to deal with for the storage issue you raise:
    (1) Find statistical ways to reduce the need for storage (the best choice, IMO, since it avoids the inefficiencies associated with storage, although in some cases those inefficiencies are small);
    (2) Find ways to modulate demand in based upon generation (discussed in previous comments in the context of PHEVs and the smart grid);
    (3) Use on-demand production to compensate for variations in supply. For example, use hydro not as baseload, but as valley filling. The combination of Norwegian hydro and Danish wind for example is what allows high wind usage;
    (4) Implement actual storage at the power plant (e.g. Thermal Energy Storage for CSP);
    (5) Use distributed storage (e.g. V2G).
    (6) Modulate the production of other fuels made from electricity (e.g. hydrogen).

    For #1, see Archer, C. L. and M. Z. Jacobson, 2007: Supplying baseload power and reducing transmissions requirements by interconnecting wind farms. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 46, 1701-1717. This looks at interconnecting just wind farms; IMO, the next step is to look at interconnected wind and solar farms.

    For #4, have you read the paper by Ausra’s David Mills and Rob Morgan, Solar Thermal Electricity as the Primary Replacement for Coal and Oil in U.S. Generation and Transportation. They are saying they could power 93% of the US 365×24 with solar alone and their own TES. Unfortunately, Ausra has not release enough information on the proposed storage technology to properly evaluate it. I hope it is real.

    For #5, Are you familiar with the work of Kempton and Tomić? (http://www.udel.edu/V2G/) For me V2G is a last resort, not a first choice, but it may be a useful last resort. However, I do know people who think it will accelerate the deployment of plug-in vehicles, by allowing people to earn money selling electricity back to the utilities at premium (i.e. peak) pricing.

    For #6, please note I think hydrogen makes little sense in many cases. However, there may be places where electrification is not cost-effective, and hydrogen made from solar or wind is far more land efficient than biofuels. For example, we should electrify most of the rail lines across the world, but there may remain some where electrification might be cost-effectively postponed by using a carbon-neutral fuel. Hydrogen from wind might therefore have a small role to play (perhaps 3%? of energy, and so twice that of electricity). As strategy #6, reducing production when there grid needs the power, and increasing production when the grid has an excess could be helpful (the issue being whether this increases the capital cost too much).

    The biggest issue that I see is that CSP+TES is far from the east coast, and the east coast has less hydro as well. This makes several of the above strategies weaker there. On the other hand, offshore wind looks pretty good off the east coast (west coast waters are often deeper, making things trickier).

    So as you predicted, I think the smart grid is quite important, but I think V2G is just one of several strategies.

  64. Earl Killian says:

    Jon asked, do “plug-in hybrids contain heating elements that warm the catalytic converter before the internal combustion engine kicks in?”

    I don’t know the answer to this. Perhaps the answer is something like this?:
    http://ipp.nasa.gov/innovation/innovation111/4-advtech3.html

  65. msn nickleri says:

    I very much would like to see the situation pictured in your graph transpire. Based on the fact that the graph contemplates that the only traditional base load generation will be nuclear and dam-based hydro-electric, I assume that you contemplate that there will be storage technologies that permit us to convert solar and wind power into base load power.

  66. Ellen says:

    Is the PHEV road-legal in the United States? Has it obtained roadworthiness certification?

  67. Rafa says:

    Hey. Everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it.
    I am from Colombia and now teach English, give true I wrote the following sentence: “Com book cheap airline flights to some of the worlds favourite destinations.”

    Thanks for the help :p, Rafa.

  68. Brian D says:

    Joe, there’s been some link rot. The PNL report gives a 404, and without a proper citation I can’t find it on their main website.