Wall St. Journal: Validation of Plug-in Cars Despite Negative Headline
- As enthusiasm and support builds for plug-in cars, we're having a
hard time keeping up with and refuting distracting articles sounding
alarms about raw materials for batteries, EMF emissions, water used
for power plants -- whatever might slow the momentum. In some cases,
we're relieved when grim headlines (which often, alas, are all most
people see) turn out to be followed by favorable articles. Case in
point: Today's Wall Street Journal story forecasts a "Grim Collision"
and "Raising" electric costs.
Read the whole story below and pass it along. The article in fact
delivers some of the best answers we've seen to every major objection
about the implications of plugging in cars (besides battery issues),
and descriptions of many of the benefits of the "electrification of
* Smart meters and price signals via time-of-use rates will
discourage peak charging
* We have more than enough off-peak power to power the entire vehicle fleet
* PHEVs could help utilities convert efficiency savings to lower
electric costs for all customers
* California's leadership now has Michigan state and utility
officials joining in
* Plug-ins deliver significant CO2 savings and could reduce imported oil by 50%
* Carmakers/utility spokespeople/regulators join a vision of a
cleaner/cheaper plug-in future
It's on the much-read first page of the Marketplace B section of the
Wall Street Journal; it includes photos of the GM Saturn Vue PHEV,
the Volt and a smart meter, and under the continuation on page 2,
it's followed by a story, "Electric Nissans Planned in US by 2010,"
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120966606763059713.html quoting CEO
Carlos Gohn saying "The electric car is not a niche product for us,"
and predicting new business models, including that of Project Better
Place (described but not named in the story), and possible EV
alliances with other carmakers.
Utilities, Plug-In Cars: Near Collision?
Electric Firms Say Daytime Charges May Raise Costs
By REBECCA SMITH rebecca.smith@...1
May 2, 2008; Page B1
Car makers are preparing to introduce plug-in electric cars in 2010,
but their success will depend on players beyond their control: the
The plug-ins are a new generation of hybrid cars that can run 10 to
40 miles on electric batteries before they have to tap their gasoline
engines. This gives them, on a tank of gas, a driving range of as
much as 600 miles without recharges to potentially thousands of miles
CAPTION: The Edison SmartConnect meter, above, knows when an electric
car's battery is charged. Utilities would prefer charging at night.
To recharge the battery, drivers will plug it into a standard
electric wall outlet at a cost of a dollar or two. As a result, the
car companies are betting that the plug-ins will succeed where
previous electric cars have failed, lifting their industry from the
doldrums and slashing oil consumption.
But the cars will need ready access to inexpensive, plentiful
electricity. That means the new vehicles "will make utilities more
important than the oil companies" to many drivers, says General
Motors Corp. spokesman Robert Peterson. If utilities discourage the
cars' proliferation by charging more for their electricity, the push
toward plug-in cars could falter.
So far, most utilities view the cars with a mixture of excitement and
trepidation. If drivers charge their batteries at night, when demand
is low and the utilities have generating capacity to spare, utilities
will increase their electricity sales and make more efficient use of
their existing power plants. But if most drivers recharge their cars
during the day, when demand is twice as high, utilities could have to
make or buy extra electricity when it is most costly. They could even
be forced to build new power plants.
A study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory agreed that the number
of plug-in vehicles in use and when they recharge could profoundly
influence power-generating costs. Under some scenarios, electricity
costs would drop, but under others, they could more than double.
Worries about capacity aren't the only source of anxiety and
friction. Congress is considering greenhouse-gas legislation that
would effectively tax carbon-dioxide emissions. Utilities worry that
their power-plant emissions could rise if they have to produce a lot
more electricity to power plug-in cars. They argue that if they help
cut oil use by furnishing electricity to cars, they should get credit
for it. Currently, though, there is no mechanism in the major bills
to reward the utilities.
Nonetheless, in some states, utilities have already begun investing
in technology that will leverage the benefits of plug-in vehicles:
"smart" utility meters that will allow both utilities and customers
to track power use by purpose and time of day. The meters will permit
utilities to move toward variable rates for electricity, charging
more during peak demand in the daytime, and less at night. The plan
is to steer plug-in owners toward charging their cars at night. Done
right, the meters could be important enabling technology, as
important to the plug-in vehicle as the elevator was to the
skyscraper or the shopping cart to the supermarket.
"The plug-in hybrid has a tremendous future," says Michael Peevey,
president of the California Public Utilities Commission. "Off-peak
rates are a key component."
Hoping to influence consumer behavior, some utilities are already
creating special rates for plug-in cars. Sempra Energy's San Diego
Gas & Electric Co., for example, has created a nighttime rate for
plug-in cars that is half that of its daytime rate.
Edison International, the parent of Southern California Edison,
believes the next couple of years will be pivotal. "We're on the cusp
of a commercial breakthrough that could reshape both industries,"
says Chairman John Bryson. "But it has to be done right."
So far, California is shaping up as the market that is best prepared
for plug-in vehicles. With 17 million light vehicles in use today, it
is both the biggest U.S. auto market and the biggest gasoline market.
It has also adopted aggressive targets for carbon-dioxide reduction,
and it is spending more money than any other state on advanced utility meters.
The state's three big investor-owned utilities -- PG&E Corp's Pacific
Gas & Electric Co., San Diego G&E and Southern California Edison --
are installing $5 billion worth of advanced utility meters, and they
expect to have blanketed the state by 2012. One meter vendor, Cellnet
+ Hunt, estimates 30 million smart meters will be installed in U.S.
homes in the next three or four years, about one-quarter of the
In Michigan, state officials are encouraging utilities and car makers
to coordinate their efforts as they roll out new technologies.
Detroit's utility, a unit of DTE Energy Co., plans to start testing
smart meters soon, and it is considering equipping all customers with
the meters by 2013.
CAPTION: Views of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in concept car from General Motors.
Later this year, Southern California Edison will see how smart meters
work in conjunction with actual plug-in cars. The utility is
partnering with Ford Motor Co. to get prototypes of the Ford Escape
plug-in in field tests in Southern California. The cars will be
paired with drivers who have access to smart utility meters.
"We want to know how the whole story works, how things fit together,"
says Mike Tamor, executive technical leader for Ford's plug-in
vehicle team in Detroit. "We want to know how much fuel is saved and
how people feel about plugging into the grid."
The plug-in car's potential to slash fuel use is dramatic. The
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that existing U.S. power
plants could meet the electricity needs of 73% of the nation's light
vehicles if the vehicles were replaced by plug-ins that recharged at
night. Such a huge shift could cut oil consumption by 6.2 million
barrels a day, eliminating 52% of current imports.
Another study, by the Electric Power Research Institute and the
Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that electricity
consumption would rise only about 8% if 60% of light vehicles in the
U.S. were replaced by plug-in vehicles by 2050. That would also cut
U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions by 450 million metric tons annually,
equivalent to scrapping 82 million cars.
Carbon-dioxide emissions would probably fall even if coal-fired
plants made the electricity, some studies have found, because they
burn coal more efficiently than automobiles burn gasoline. What we're
learning, says Ed Kjaer, director of electric transportation at
Southern California Edison, is that "the grid is a mighty powerful tool."
Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for the Chevy Volt, the plug-in
car that General Motors Corp. is developing, says great changes are
needed. Globally, there are 800 million vehicles in use today and the
number is expected to grow by 300 million vehicles to 1.1 billion by
2020. "They can't all be petroleum-based," he says. "We believe in
electricity. It's everywhere, and you can make it from a variety of fuels."
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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