Toyota Motor Corp. is on track to start testing the prototypes for its first crack at plug-in hybrid cars later this year, a spokeswoman said yesterday.
By Jan. 1, the company expects to release 500 plug-in versions of its Prius onto American, European and Japanese roads, said Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight. The cars will use lithium-ion batteries, not the nickel-metal hydride packages seen in Priuses today.
The pilot will kick off a three-year effort by the Japanese auto giant to get data on how these cars fare in the real world: how they’re charged, how their batteries perform, and what sort of mileage they get. In recent years, Toyota has resisted pressure to develop a plug-in, even using commercials suggesting that plugging in hybrid vehicles is a bother.
Engineers will use the new plug-in data to design a more widely produced plug-in version of the Prius, but they don’t intend to copycat other companies’ plug-in efforts, said Tom Stricker, director of the energy and environmental research group for Toyota North America.
The Chevrolet Volt, which General Motors Co. has slated for release late next year, would get a range of 40 miles on all-electric power before firing up its gasoline engine. GM says it based the range on statistics showing that 75 percent of American commutes are less than 40 miles. Early forecasts are that Toyota will aim for an all-electric range of 10 to 15 miles instead.
Batteries are the most expensive part of any electric-drive vehicle, Stricker said, and Toyota has decided that a 40-mile range is too much.
I believe a shorter all-electric range makes sense for early plug ins from both a design and cost-effectiveness basis (see “CMU study suggests GM has wildly oversized the batteries in the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid” and “Has GM overdesigned the Volt: Is a 40-mile all electric range too much?“) Here’s more:
“That might not be the right number if it costs you $15,000 a battery and nobody buys it,” he said.
He pointed to research from Carnegie Mellon University suggesting that about half of U.S. miles driven are for trips shorter than 20 miles.
In its three-year pilot, Stricker said, Toyota will try to find a sweet spot — a balance between all-electric range and the pricey batteries needed to power it.
“The key question for plug-ins, from a design perspective, is how much of an electric range is really necessary, and what will that cost,” he said.
It’s not a bad strategy, according to Andrew Frank, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Davis, whose students once built a plug-in SUV with a 50-mile all-electric range.
Lithium, the main ingredient in the batteries, is hard to come by. So “for the amount of lithium available today, you can build three times more Priuses that are plug compatible than Chevy Volts, since the battery packs are one-third the size. And you make money by selling cars and not batteries!!” Frank said in an e-mail.
Frank said the more cars Toyota sells, the more the price of its batteries will fall, enabling it to make cheaper, longer-lasting cars.
To bring attention the risk the Maldives face from rising sea levels and climate change, President Mohamed Nasheed is going to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. On Saturday, he and 12 cabinet ministers will don scuba gear and dive 3.5 meters (11 feet, 6 inches) under the surface of a turquoise lagoon to hold what is billed as the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting.
It is the latest of Nasheed’s eye-catching moves to bring attention to the Maldives’ plight before a landmark U.N. climate meeting in Copenhagen in December. “The message is we will do anything, everything, to live in this country,” Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam told Reuters.
The archipelago nation off the tip of India, mostly known for its high-end luxury tropical hideaways and unspoiled white-sand beaches, is among the most threatened by rising seas. Rising sea levels of up to 58 cm, as predicted by the U.N. Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, threaten to submerge most of the Maldives’ low-lying islands by 2100.
The underwater cabinet meeting is a part of the 350 global campaigns, which call for a reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide to the safe threshold of 350 parts per million (ppm). Current levels stand at 387 ppm. Seated around a table and using hand signals and slates, the cabinet will endorse an “SOS” message from the Maldives to be presented at the U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen.
“We must unite in a world war effort to halt further temperature rises,” an advance copy of the statement made available to Reuters said. “Climate change is happening and it threatens the rights and security of everyone on Earth. With less than one degree of global warming, the glaciers are melting, the ice sheets collapsing and low lying areas are in danger of being swamped.”
Lately, we’ve been documenting the exodus of companies from the Chamber of Commerce over its opposition to serious efforts to address global warming.
But as the Senate gets set to take up climate change legislation, already passed by the House, there’s a larger question behind the Chamber’s woes: What’s motivating energy-sector companies on both sides of the issue, and how are their positions affecting the debate on Capitol Hill?
Experts stress that, even within the utility sector, a range of factors drive companies in different directions. Perhaps the most important is to what extent the utility has already begun to shift away from carbon-intensive fuels — oil, coal, and natural gas — toward renewable sources. Thus, Exelon — which was an early mover on de-carbonization, divesting itself of its coal-fired capacity over ten years, and becoming one of the leading providers of nuclear energy — left the Chamber recently and supports efforts to pass strong legislation. Meanwhile, Southern Company, still heavily oriented around fossil fuels, remains a Chamber member, and did not support the House bill.
Another key factor is the existence of different regulations in different states. PG&E, another refugee from the Chamber, is responding in part to the fact that California, where it operates, has in place a very strong renewable portfolio standard, requiring utilities to make a significant shift over to renewable sources in the coming years. As a result, national legislation would actually be helpful for PG&E, in part because it would make things easier to attract developers and capital for new projects.
Experts and aid groups called Thursday for the United States to help poor countries deal with the effects of global warming, as Congress considers key climate change legislation. Testifying before a Senate panel, humanitarian organizations called for US aid to help countries with “adaptation solutions” in response to the effects of climate change.
“Congress has a unique opportunity to invest in adaptation solutions today that will pay off both immediately and in the future,” said David Waskow, climate change program director at Oxfam. “We urge you to help ensure that at least three percent of the resources in comprehensive climate and energy legislation are devoted to adaptation efforts in vulnerable developing countries,” he said.
Peter O’Driscoll, director of ActionAid USA said “there is no viable alternative to investing in climate adaptation: helping people, communities and entire countries face these consequences must be a central pillar of US foreign policy.” General Charles Wald, former deputy commander of US European Command, warned that serious climate change could pose a security threat. “On the most basic level, climate change has the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale and at a frequency far beyond those we see today,” he said.
Leading U.S. environment and energy groups call on the Senate to reject any additions to the climate bill that would further “streamline” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) licensing process for new reactors, because it could threaten public health and safety. The groups explain in the letter that “the acceleration of those review and hearing processes would not address the real cause of delays in the NRC’s licensing process: premature submission of incomplete and poor-quality applications by the industry.”
The full text of the letter submitted to all 100 U.S. Senators is as follows:
As the Senate crafts a comprehensive climate and energy bill, we are writing to urge you to reject any provisions that would further undermine the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) existing, truncated licensing process for new reactors. Both Congress and the NRC have already streamlined the NRC’s processes for internal staff reviews, the licensing process and associated public hearings so drastically that any further acceleration would fatally undermine public confidence in the safety of US reactors. Furthermore, the acceleration of those review and hearing processes would not address the real cause of delays in the NRC’s licensing process: premature submission of incomplete and poor-quality applications by the industry. Public health and safety could be jeopardized if there is a rush to construct new nuclear reactors without allowing resolution of the significant technical uncertainties present in all new reactor designs, such as their resistance to aircraft attacks.
The NRC’s licensing process for new reactors already has been accelerated in two major respects. In the Energy Policy Act of 1992, anticipating standardized reactor designs that could be generically approved by the NRC and incorporated by reference into individual license applications, Congress collapsed the former two-step licensing process (construction permit review followed by operating license review) into a one-step Construction and Operation License (COL) process. In 2004, the NRC further truncated the licensing process by eliminating the public’s right to take depositions or cross-examine opposing witnesses in individual licensing hearings.