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Clips: GM Radio | PRIUPS | MacCready | Hummer/Prius| IEEE | TechReview | Environomics

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  • Felix Kramer
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2007
      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

      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?)

      Ok, listen…. [quiet - no sound]

      D’you hear that? … [background music starts]

      That, my friend, is the sound of the future.

      Yep, the extended range electric car is coming.

      It’s the concept Chevy volt.

      And all of those engineering students who got
      straight A’s in physics - they’re 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 home’s 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 Google’s
      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. Parks’s 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.

      “There’s quite a bit of excitement about this in
      venture-capital circles and amongst leading-edge
      entrepreneurs,” said Jesse Berst of
      Smartgridnews.com. “It’s 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. “It’s 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.
      “It’s 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 car’s 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 Honda’s 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 wasn’t 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, 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

      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
      https://www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/Transportation/T07-01_DustToDust.pdf .

      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
      http://tinyurl.com/2oqkv7 or this long URL

      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.

      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
      justice: http://www.americanenvironics.com/PDF/EnergyAttitudesSummer2007.pdf

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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