For your reading enjoyment this holiday weekend,
here's a roundup of recent not-to-be-missed news and information:
* Transcript of GM's 30-second radio ad for Volt
* NYTimes article about backup power from Prius and vehicle-to-grid
* Remembering the inspiring inventor Paul MacCready
* More rebuttals to the "Hummer greener than Prius" story
* IEEE cover story on A123 and PHEV batteries
* Technology Review's print story on PHEVs excerpted
* American Environomics' thought-provoking attitudinal study
GENERA MOTORS RADIO AD FOR VOLT
General Motors has begun to air radio ads for the
Volt: they've been heard in Michigan and the SF
Bay Area. Here's a link to the broadcast and a
transcript of the 30-second commercial. (Is it
significant that they call it a concept car? That
they say the batteries are being designed? That
the 40 mile electric range shoulders aside the "extended range" message?)
. [quiet - no sound]
Dyou hear that?
[background music starts]
That, my friend, is the sound of the future.
Yep, the extended range electric car is coming.
Its the concept Chevy volt.
And all of those engineering students who got
straight As in physics - theyre designing the batteries right now.
Think about it: up to 40 miles a day without using a drop of gasoline.
Now, this assumes a fully charged battery and actual mileage may vary.
Go to chevy.com and learn more, do more, use less.
[That URL has a link to "Gas-Friendly to
Gas-Free" with choices including: * Fuel
Efficiency * E85 * Ethanol * Active Fuel
Management * Hybrid * Electric * Fuel Cell]
This Sunday's New York Times Auto Section includes
"Greentech: Power to the People: Run Your House on a Prius"
by Jim Motavalli, editor of E Magazine.
WHEN Hurricane Frances ripped through
Gainesville, Fla., in 2004, Christopher Swinney,
an anesthesiologist, was without electricity for
a week. A few weeks ago, Dr. Swinney lost power
again, but this time he was ready.
He plugged his Toyota Prius into the backup
uninterruptible power supply unit in his house
and soon the refrigerator was humming and the
lights were back on. It was running everything
in the house except the central air-conditioning, Dr. Swinney said.
Without the Prius, the batteries in the U.P.S.
unit would have run out of power in about an
hour. The battery pack in the car kept the U.P.S.
online and was itself recharged by the gasoline
engine, which cycled on and off as needed. The
U.P.S. has an inverter, which converts the direct
current electricity from the batteries to
household alternating current and regulates the
voltage. As long as it has fuel, the Prius can
produce at least three kilowatts of continuous
power, which is adequate to maintain a homes basic functions.
This form of vehicle-to-grid technology, often
called V2G, has attracted hobbyists, university
researchers and companies like Pacific Gas &
Electric and Google. Although there is some
skepticism among experts about the feasibility of
V2G, the big players see a future in which fleets
of hybrid cars, recharged at night when demand is
lower, can relieve the grid and help avert serious blackouts.
Willett Kempton, a senior scientist in the Center
for Energy and Environmental Policy at the
University of Delaware, said the power capacity
of the automotive fleet was underutilized.
Mr. Kempton is helping to explore the V2G
capabilities of a fuel-cell bus and
battery-electric vehicles. The technology is also
well-suited for so-called plug-in hybrids, which
are being developed by General Motors, Toyota and
other automakers. Plug-in hybrids will use larger
battery packs and recharge from a household
outlet for 10 to 30 miles of electric-only
driving. When modified, these cars can return
electricity to the grid from their batteries.
Google has four Priuses with plug-in capacity at
its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. With
some advice from P.G.& E., Google equipped one to supply power to the grid.
Larry Brilliant, executive director of Googles
nonprofit arm, Google.org, said that the company
was interested in reducing greenhouse gas
emissions from cars, and that large numbers of
plug-in vehicles could help achieve that. In
addition, V2G technology done at scale could
bring the added benefit of delivering electricity
to help stabilize the grid and reduce peak demand, he said.
Keith Parks, an analyst at the Minneapolis-based
utility Xcel Energy, offers what he calls a
pie-in-the-sky vision for V2G in which a
company would offer incentives to its employees
to buy plug-in hybrids. The parking lot would be
equipped with recharging stations, which could
also return power to the grid from the vehicles.
Both Xcel Energy and the federal National
Renewable Energy Laboratory, Mr. Parkss former
employer, are investigating V2G technology.
According to Terry Penney, technology manager for
advanced vehicles at the laboratory, Our
long-term vision is how vehicles can interact with the grid.
We see this as a win-win, said Sven Thesen,
director of P.G.& E.s Clean Air Transportation
office. The utility owns Sparky, a Prius
converted to plug-in operation by EnergyCS of Monrovia, Calif.
Mr. Thesen offers a theoretical situation in
which, on the eve of a record hot day with an
expected high electricity load, the utility could
alert a network of plug-in owners and have them
temporarily run their air-conditioners or other
large-load appliances off car batteries instead of the electrical grid.
Theres quite a bit of excitement about this in
venture-capital circles and amongst leading-edge
entrepreneurs, said Jesse Berst of
Smartgridnews.com. Its the first new use for
the electric power infrastructure in 100 years.
But the V2G vision is not likely to be realized
soon because engineers are wrestling with battery
technology, cost and weight. A word of caution is
added by John DeCicco, a mechanical engineer and
senior fellow for automotive strategies at the
nonprofit group Environmental Defense. Its hard
to take seriously the promises made for plug-in
hybrids with 30-mile all-electric range or any
serious V2G application any time soon, he said.
Its still in the science project stage.
No automaker is selling a plug-in hybrid vehicle,
but some ambitious people are making their own.
Converting a stock Prius to back up the grid is
much easier, and the guru for such conversions is
Richard Factor, 61, an inventor from Kinnelon, N.J.
Mr. Factor says that small U.P.S. units, often
used to provide backup power for computer
servers, are inexpensive. His system, which he
estimates would cost $2,000 to $4,000 to
duplicate, incorporates a large U.P.S. mounted in
his home and a long electrical cord to the Prius,
where it connects through the cars built-in
relay terminals. His system is designed to
integrate with the grid, but he said more
rudimentary systems could be built for as little as $200.
During a recent six-hour power failure, Mr.
Factor estimated that his 2005 Prius used less
than one gallon of gasoline. If the electrical
load was relatively low Mr. Factor said the car
could possibly run for two days or more before running out of fuel.
The V2G potential of Hondas full hybrid vehicles
is unexplored, but the company is doubtful of
using them to power homes. We would not like to
see stresses on the battery pack caused by
putting it through cycles it wasnt designed
for, said Chris Naughton, a Honda spokesman.
Instead, they should buy a Honda generator that was made for that purpose.
NOTE: Richard Factor's website mentioned in the
article is http://www.priups.com/
PAUL MACCREADY DIES
Paul MacCready, one of the world's great
engineers, and an inspiration to inventors, died
this week at age 81. We first heard about his
human-powered airplanes, the Gossamer Condor and
Gossamer Albatross. When we got involved with
plug-in cars, we discovered he'd helped create
the GM EV1, and when we met we found he was a
huge fan of PHEVs. The company he founded,
Aerovironment, was the incubator for many
projects relating to electric transportation and
batteries, and for people who ended up at EnergyCS, Tesla and other companies.
You can read NYT writer Douglas Martin's moving obituary at
and EVWorld Editor Bill Moore's "Tribute to a Hero of the Planet" at
CNW: PRIUS VS. HUMMER STORY
The ridiculous story of a Prius being worse
environmentally than a Hummer keeps coming back
for another round. (Nothing ever disappears
permanently online. We still get emails telling
us that Bill Gates will send us money if we
forward a chain letter to our friends.) Find
serious rebuttals by the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Pacific Institute at
Now Joe Romm, who writes a great blog called, has
outdone himself with an entertaining and
informative dissection of the story (given new
life by Rush Limbaugh among others). Read it at
or this long URL
IEEE SPECTRUM: LITHIUM BATTERIES TAKE TO THE ROAD
At the same time as the Institute of Electrical
and Electronics Engineers (I-TripleE) is holding
a major briefing on PHEVs in DC (see our
CalCars-News posting this week), Spectrum, the
prestigious monthly magazine, has a six-page
article, "Lithium Batteries Take to the Road:
Hybrid Electric Cars Need Much Better Batteries ,
and A123, a Plucky Massachusetts Start-Up, Says
It's Got Them." The article, by Spectrum
automotive editor John Voecker, is chock-full of
information and graphics about battery variants,
cathode technologies, phosphates, etc. See
Kellin Bullis, nanotechnology and materials
science editor for Technology Rrview, has written
about PHEVs online. The Sept/Oct. print edition
has "Electric Cars 2.0: Plug-in hybrids could
bring gas-free commutes. But will they make it to market?"
Here's the last half of the article, from
To become practical and economically viable,
plug-in vehicles will need to be mass-produced.
Will automakers follow through on their highly
publicized announcements about plug-ins? GM, for
one, has a reputation for quitting on innovative
engineering; the company's executives scrapped an
earlier all-electric vehicle. And even though GM
had an early lead in conventional hybrid
technology, it failed to bring hybrids to market
until after the success of Toyota's Prius. What
will happen to plug-in plans if gas prices drop,
or if interest in reducing greenhouse gases wanes?
No one can predict the results of the carmakers'
fickle decision-making process. But a few things
are clear. Plug-ins are the most practical and
enticing alternative to the internal-combustion
engine that has been developed in years. And
their fate will depend on whether automakers
learn from the success of conventional hybrids
and fully embrace the new technology.
I did at last drive a working plug-in. The
converted car glided noiselessly along the
streets of Boston as I eyed a gauge that
estimated my mileage at more than 150 miles per
gallon. But on the day that I saw the Volt on
display at A123's offices, GM wasn't giving
rides; the car was just a mock-up, without the
new batteries. As I sat in the driver's seat and
grasped the steering wheel, sunlight streaming
through the clear roof, it was easy to believe
that plug-ins are on the way. But the mock-up was
also a harsh reminder that when it comes to green
innovation, U.S. automakers have long been more
eager to show off flashy concept cars than to manufacture vehicles that work.
AMERICAN ENVIRONOMICS REPORT ON ATTITUDES ABOUT ENERGY
From the people who brought you "The Death of
Environmentalism," a 24-page report on "Energy
Attitudes: Rising Public Demand for Government
Action on Energy Independence Even as Global
Warming Remains a Low Priority for Voters."
Highly recommended and thought-provoking. A
summary won't do it
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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