SF Chronicle Runs Sherry Boschert's PHEV Overview
- The first book on PHEVs, by Sherry Boschert, came out late last year.
On CalCars' home page we have links to places you can order it:
<http://www.sherryboschert.com> and <http://www.pluginamerica.org>.
You can of course also find it in bookstores. See some favorable
reviews, including "It's the most important book I've read all year."
by readers at Amazon.com. This article captures Sherry's narrative style.
Cars that make hybrids look like gas guzzlers
Plug-in versions can go 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline
Page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle's "Insight" section
Sunday, March 4, 2007
by Sherry Boschert
Sherry Boschert is the author of "Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars That Will
Recharge America" and a member of Plug In America. She will speak
about renewable energy and plug-in cars at a free public event on
Thursday at 7 p.m. at Sierra Club headquarters, 85 Second St., third
floor, San Francisco.
CAPTION: Additional batteries and a electrical cord allow Ron Gremban
to boost mileage, but carmakers aren't ready to use the technology.
Chronicle photo by Deanne FitzmauriceOpinion
Toyota Prius owners tend to be a proud lot since they drive the
fuel-efficient hybrid gas-electric car that's the darling of
mainstream environmentalists and one of the hottest-selling vehicles
in America. A few, however, felt that good was not good enough.
They've made "improvements" even though the modifications voided
parts of their warranties.
Ron Gremban of Corte Madera did it. So did Felix Kramer of Redwood
City, and Sven Thesen of Palo Alto. Why? Five words: one hundred
miles per gallon.
"We took the hybrid car to its logical conclusion," Kramer says, by
adding more batteries and the ability to recharge by plugging into a
regular electrical socket at night, making the car a plug-in hybrid.
Compared with the Prius' fuel efficiency of 50 mpg, plug-in hybrids
use half as much gasoline by running more on cleaner, cheaper,
domestic electricity. If owners forget to plug in overnight, it's no
big deal -- the car runs like a regular hybrid.
These trendsetters monkeyed with the car for more than their own
benefit. They did it to make a point: If they could make a plug-in
hybrid, the major car companies could, too. And should.
Kramer, Gremban and a cadre of volunteers formed the California Cars
Initiative (online at calcars.org), and in 2004 converted Gremban's
Prius to a plug-in hybrid in his garage. They added inexpensive
lead-acid batteries and some innovative software to fool the car's
computerized controls into using more of the energy stored in the
batteries, giving the car over 100 mpg in local driving and 50 to 80
mpg on the highway. The cost of conversion is about $5,000 for a
CalCars' efforts to publicize plug-in hybrids were so successful that
in January 2006 the Bush administration lifted a photo of the car
peeking out from Gremban's garage and featured it on the White House
Web site as a harbinger of good cars to come. Do-it-yourselfers in
Illinois and elsewhere converted their hybrids to plug-ins. Several
small companies like EnergyCS in Southern California started doing
small numbers of conversions for fleets and government agencies using
longer-lasting, more energy-dense lithium-ion batteries.
Kramer hired EnergyCS to convert his Prius and reported on a typical
day of driving. He traveled 51 miles, mostly on the highway, at fuel
efficiencies of 124 mpg of gas and about a penny's worth of
electricity per mile. Compared with driving his Prius before the
conversion, he used 61 percent less gas and spewed out two-thirds
less greenhouse gases at a total cost of $1.76 for electricity and
gasoline, instead of the $3.17 it would have required on gasoline alone.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. acquired an EnergyCS plug-in Prius
conversion, too. It so impressed Thesen, a PG&E supervisor in the
clean air transportation group, that he offered his privately owned
Prius to CalCars as a guinea pig. Back in Gremban's garage, CalCars
and the Electric Auto Association converted it in November to a
plug-in with lead-acid batteries as part of a video and educational
package to guide do-it-yourselfers (www.eaa-phev.org).
Support for plug-in hybrids from a utility like PG&E, which still
produces 45 percent of its electricity from polluting fossil fuels,
makes some environmentalists nervous. The data on plug-in hybrids,
however, have calmed their fears. On the U.S. electrical grid, which
gets more than half of its power from dirty, nasty coal, plug-in cars
produce fewer overall emissions of greenhouse gases and other
pollutants than do other cars.
California's grid uses less coal, which makes plug-in cars even
cleaner. As more wind and solar power get added to the energy mix,
driving on electricity gets cleaner still. Driving on gasoline will
only get dirtier as conventional sources dry up and we desperately
turn to hard-to-extract oil that requires lots of energy to get at,
producing lots more pollution.
Enthusiasm over plug-in hybrids has created strange bedfellows.
Perched somewhat uneasily alongside PG&E and the former oil man in
the White House, Sierra Club leaders representing 13 chapters in
California and Nevada adopted a resounding endorsement of plug-in
hybrids in the past year.
Former Sierra Club President Larry Fahn has been looking for a
mechanic to convert his Prius for more than a year. Therein lies the
problem. People want plug-in hybrids but can't get them. Dealers
don't sell them yet, and the few conversion services cater to fleets.
There are only a few dozen plug-in hybrids in the world, while demand
for them is growing rapidly. The city of Austin, Texas, which uses
more renewable power than any other U.S. city, started a Plug-in
Partners Campaign and gathered more than 8,000 advance orders for
plug-in hybrids. In the Bay Area, San Francisco, Alameda, Berkeley
and Marin County signed on as Plug-in Partners.
Are the automakers listening? Maybe.
Several showed plug-in hybrid prototypes in the 1990s but cast them
aside during their battle to weaken California's Zero-Emission
Vehicle Mandate. Stung by bad publicity from the 2006 documentary
"Who Killed the Electric Car?", General Motors reversed course and
showed the prototype plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt at a January auto
show. In the past year, at least six major car companies have said
they're developing plug-in vehicles, including Toyota officials, who
seem none too happy about amateurs messing with the Prius.
Plug-in hybrids won't hit the market, though, until better batteries
are developed, the automakers say. That doesn't sit well with drivers
like Marc Geller of San Francisco, who co-founded the nonprofit group
Plug In America (www.pluginamerica.org). The nickel-metal hydride
batteries in Gellers' all-electric 2002 Toyota RAV4-EV give the
compact SUV plenty of power, take him all over the Bay Area, and are
expected to last the life of the car, based on utility company fleet tests.
Consumers appear to have three options to hasten the arrival of
plug-in hybrids: Demand them ("Tell the automakers that you won't buy
a new car unless it has a plug on it," Geller says), or push for
government incentives or interventions. (The California Air Resources
Board is planning to revise the zero-emissions mandate this year.)
Or, build your own plug-in hybrid.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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