Forwardable Plug-In Intro by David Morris -- Plus Plug-In Airplanes
- David Morris has written frequently about plug-in hybrids. This
happens to be a particularly readable and comprehensive review that
also includes plug-ins' modern history since 1990. At the article's
URL you can also find a huge volume of comments.
In addition, we were intrigued today to hear of a practical electric
airplane, recently flown in Oshkosh Wisconsin, reported by the "other
EAA" (the Experimental Aircraft Association," whose annual conference
just ended. At
http://www.airventure.org/2008/8sun3/electra_flyer.html read about
the Electraflyer, a one-person plane that flies up to 90 MPH for
1.5-2 hours, with a 5.6 kWh lithium polymer battery pack that
recharges in 2-6 hours and weighs 78 pounds. If all that interests
you, then don't miss the PHEV version: at the website for the second
annual Electric Airplane Symposium
http://cafefoundation.org/v2/pav_eas_2008.php in San Francisco, CA on
April 26, 2008, download "Hybridizing Light Aircraft" PDF (290K),
CalCars' Technical Lead Ron Gremban's 13-slide talk showing that
plug-in hybrid designs may also be viable for light aircraft.
Electric Cars Are the Key to Energy Independence By David Morris,
AlterNet. Posted August 2, 2008.
David Morris is vice president of the Institute for Local
Self-Reliance. His report on the future of transportation, Driving
Our Way to Energy Independence, was published in April 2008. He is
also the author of Self-Reliant Cities (Sierra Club Books, 1982).
Al Gore's heroic speech challenging us to make our electrical system
100 percent renewable promised it would simultaneously address three
major crises: the weak economy, catastrophic climate change and the
dire national security problems inherent in our dependence on imported oil.
He got two out of three right. A crash renewable electricity
initiative would provide an immediate boost to our economy and could
slow climate change, since electricity accounts for about a third of
our overall greenhouse gas emissions.
But it would do little to enhance our national security.
Oil generates only 3 percent of our electricity. Therefore a 100
percent renewable electricity system does little to reduce our oil
dependency -- unless that electricity is used to substitute for oil
in our transportation system.
Al Gore knows this. In other venues he has mentioned electrified
vehicles. But he needs to make electrifying our transportation the
central element in his 10-year plan, for at least two reasons.
One is that it is an initiative that would prove far more compelling
to the vast majority of Americans. Climate change is abstract, and
the strategies to resolve it are remote. Our relationship to our
vehicles, on the other hand, is both concrete and visceral. We
desperately want to get off oil, especially when gasoline prices rise
to $4 per gallon.
But it is more than a pocketbook issue for many of us; it is a moral
issue. Americans hate being dependent for our mobility, and therefore
for our livelihoods, on countries often hostile to our way of life.
Electric cars promise to end that dependency.
And as a bonus, with rooftop solar cells, we can become independent
not only from OPEC but from remote and often unresponsive utility
companies. We can become energy producers as well as energy consumers.
And then there is the plain fact that once significant numbers of
electric vehicles are on the roads, word of mouth will be a powerful
marketing tool. The reason? As Marc Geller, a longtime advocate of
electric vehicles, told me a year ago as we were traveling up Route 1
in Northern California in his all-electric small SUV, "Anyone who
drives an electric car falls in love with an electric car." That love
affair will be aided and abetted by a population eager to embrace a
homegrown fuel and vehicles that offer quicker propulsion, a quiet
drive and zero tailpipe emissions.
There is another persuasive reason for Gore to focus on an
electrified transportation system: It is simply physically impossible
to convert our entire electricity system to renewables in 10 years,
but it is possible to convert our entire ground transportation system
to renewable electricity within a similar time frame. That would
require a national mobilization, to be sure, but it can be done.
Converting our electric system fully to renewables would require us
to shut down about 80 percent of our current electricity-generating
capacity, much of it low-cost, already paid off and capable of
generating electricity for another 25 years or more. Moreover, to
reach very high penetration rates of renewable electricity would
require that we overcome the principal shortcoming of wind and
To electrify our transportation system, on the other hand, we could
displace rather than shut down the existing system, and we would be
replacing a physical stock with a relatively short life expectancy.
Given the average seven-year life expectancy of existing vehicles and
the high probability that we would offer an incentive for owners of
older gasoline-powered vehicles to trade them in, new electric
vehicles could constitute the entire fleet within a decade, and that
doesn't take into account the potential for conversions of existing vehicles.
Powering 100 percent of our transportation system would require about
30 percent of the electricity generated in 2006. With a massive
effort, using a combination of solar and wind power, we could
generate about that much electricity by 2020.
The fact that we can even contemplate the rapid electrification of
transportation is a testament to 20 years of grassroots activism at
the local and state level. The enactment by Congress of a renewable
electricity tax incentive in 1992 was important, but the wind energy
industry did not take off until states began to mandate renewable
electricity. Today more than 25 states boast such mandates. A recent
report put together by a task force of California leaders urges the
state to double its renewable electricity mandate to 50 percent by 2020.
We have done a great deal, from the bottom up, to increase the supply
of renewable electricity. Less well known is how much we have done on
the demand side of the equation, that is, the use of electricity in
A brief historical review might be in order here. The first electric
utilities were born largely to serve the transportation sector, which
in the late 19th century meant urban streetcars. Until 1920,
transportation remained the nation's utilities' single largest
customer. And as the birth of the automobile age began, electric
vehicles were by far the most popular. In the late 1890s electric
vehicles (EVs) outsold gasoline cars 10 to 1. Many of the first car
dealerships were exclusively for EVs.
The future of transportation abruptly changed in the 1910s. Mass
production of gasoline-powered cars dramatically lowered their price.
The introduction of automatic ignition removed the difficult and
dangerous task of cranking to start the gasoline engine. Meanwhile
the infrastructure for electricity was almost nonexistent outside
city boundaries, limiting the utility of electric vehicles.
For the next 70 years, electric transportation all but disappeared.
Then, in 1990, two events occurred to revive the prospects of
electrified vehicles. One was a private sector initiative; the other
a public sector initiative. One was technology driven; the other
In 1990, Sony introduced the lithium ion battery. Its higher energy
density quickly made it the battery of choice for electronic
equipment. Over the next 10 years, as portable electronic equipment
demanded more powerful and longer-lasting batteries, the lithium ion
battery industry saw many technological advances. In the last five
years, many variations of that battery have begun to vie for
supremacy as the foundation for a new generation of electric vehicles.
The public initiative was California's Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV)
Mandate. Enacted in 1990, the mandate required that 2 percent of all
new vehicles sold by major car manufacturers in that state be
all-electric by 1998, and 10 percent by 2003. By 1994, 12 additional
states had adopted its mandate.
If that mandate had remained in place, more than 10 million EVs might
be traveling our roads today. But as the marvelous documentary "Who
Killed the Electric Car?" reveals in depressing detail, the ZEV
mandate was weakened in the 1990s and finally killed in 2003.
Notwithstanding its demise, the mandate did result in several
important and positive outcomes. One was the hybrid vehicle, whose
development was in part an outgrowth of the vigorous developments in
electrical and electronic vehicle systems spurred by the ZEV mandate.
Another was the advance in large-format battery technology after many
decades of stagnation. The new Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery
replaced the lead acid battery for ZEVs sold in California, and by
the late 1990s, a second-generation NiMH promised to last the life of
the car, almost halving the capital cost of an electric vehicle.
(Tragically, patent disputes have stifled NiMH development.)
Perhaps the most important enduring legacy of the ZEV mandate was the
creation of tens of thousands of Californians who experienced the
pleasure of driving or being driven in full-size electric vehicles
capable of high-speed, long-distance highway driving. "Who Killed the
Electric Car?" portrays what seemed to be a futile grassroots effort
to stop car companies from taking back their EVs and crushing them.
Yet even as the movie ends, the uprising began to gain traction. GM
proved incorrigible. But creative and extensive protests here and
abroad persuaded Ford and then Toyota to cease crushing their
vehicles and begin offering them for sale. Reportedly, Chris Paine,
the director of "Who Killed the Electric Car?" is making a new movie
titled "Who Saved the Electric Car?" It promises to be a very uplifting sequel.
At its peak, the ZEV mandate brought some 5,500 electric vehicles
onto California roads, ranging from Ford's small Think Car to
Toyota's small SUV, the RAV4, to Ford's light pickup truck, the Ranger.
After the protests ended and the dust cleared, more than 800 electric
vehicles were saved, most of them RAV4s. Some have now traveled more
than 110,000 miles, validating both the durability of the batteries
and the vehicles' remarkably low maintenance costs.
The EV movement was aided and abetted by the introduction, in 2004,
of the second iteration of the Toyota Prius. The best-selling car
sported a mysterious blank button on the dashboard. Via the Internet,
Americans were told that in Japan the button was operational. Pushing
it allowed the car to travel solely by electricity for a mile or so.
Engineers in Texas and California quickly learned how to convert the
Prius to drive solely on electricity, and they added sufficient
battery capacity to travel 10 and then 20 and then 30 miles before
recharging was needed.
Several start-ups began to offer plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV)
conversions. Felix Kramer, the Paul Revere of the movement, spent the
next two years trying to convince national reporters, members of
Congress, Silicon Valley businesses and even EV advocates, many of
whom believed a car with a gas engine was a sacrilege, that a plug-in
hybrid electric vehicle could become the foundation for a transition
to an electrified transportation sector. Kramer convinced a leading
car industry reporter based in Michigan to run a story, which quickly
translated into dozens of stories in the national media. In the
spring of 2006, he spent $15,000 to transport his own converted Prius
PHEV to DC and allow several senators and leading policymakers and
opinion leaders to literally kick the tires and drive in it.
At the time fewer than a dozen Prius conversions existed in the
entire country. But the work of organizations like Plug-In America
and Plug-In Partners and Kramer's own CalCars began to seize the
In just the last 12 months, the dam against electrified vehicles
seems to have broken. For the first time since 1910, an oil-free
transportation system is on the table.
New announcements by businesses large and small have become almost a
weekly occurrence. Hymotion, a small company affiliated with Internet
giant Google and the MIT spin-off, battery maker A123, has begun to
roll out a nationwide network of certified plug-in hybrid converters.
Toyota, which for the first six years of Prius sales used the
advertising tag line, "You Never Have to Plug It In," announced in
2007 an abrupt change of mind. In 2010, Toyota will begin leasing
plug-in Priuses in Japan. GM, which had originally loudly and
sarcastically dismissed the concept of hybrids, announced it will
offer a plug-in hybrid with a 40-mile driving range in 2010. Nissan,
VW, Renault and other car manufacturers have all announced their
intention to introduce electric vehicles in the same time frame.
In July 2008, San Jose announced the beginning of a network of easily
accessible and useable EV-charging stations in parking garages around
the city. San Francisco followed with its own request for proposals
for a similar citywide network.
On the political front, the current energy bill stalled in Congress
because of Republican opposition: The bill contains a tax incentive
for plug-ins sufficient to make the first cost of such vehicles
nearly competitive with conventional vehicles.
The energy bill signed into law just before Christmas in 2007
includes a little-noticed but very powerful incentive for
all-electric vehicles. For purposes of meeting the new higher fuel
efficiency standards, all-electric vehicles will be awarded an
efficiency rating based largely on the amount of gasoline displaced,
which translates into an overall fuel efficiency rating for a typical
mid-size EV of about 350 miles per gallon.
And on the customer level, gasoline prices of $4 per gallon have
generated a palpable hunger for alternatives and changed the
comparative economics of EVs and gasoline-powered vehicles. Driving a
mile on electricity today costs about 3 cents while traveling a mile
on gasoline costs about 15 cents. This can translate into annual fuel
savings of more than $1,000.
The advent of EVs may change not only the contours of our
transportation system but also the structure of our electricity
system. The unique characteristic of the electricity system is that
the product must be instantaneously transmitted and no storage
capacity is available. This is the reason Enron and others were able
to manipulate the system in deregulated California 10 years ago, a
manipulation that led to the near bankruptcy of the state and
continues to burden the state budget.
The prospect of a large battery capacity contained in tens of
millions of electrified vehicles could be, in the words of one
utility executive, "a game changer." Utilities, eager to nurture a
potentially large new customer, are also vigorously assessing how
this new electric capacity can be integrated into the existing
distribution and subtransmission parts of the grid system.
Some studies have estimated that utilities could pay an EV owner
several thousand dollars a year to tap into the car's batteries when
needed for energy used to keep the local grid stable. The vehicle
would be available for such tapping a considerable percentage of the
time. A typical vehicle sits idle some 23 of 24 hours a day. Millions
sit in commuter parking lots for eight hours a day.
A large storage capacity could also ameliorate the intermittency
problem of renewable energy, which in turn could allow a much higher
proportion of renewable electricity on the grid. One study of the
Sacramento, Calif., electricity network concluded that a significant
penetration of battery-powered vehicles could boost the potential
wind energy contribution to about 50 percent of total electricity generation.
EVs might spur a profound relocalization of our electricity system. I
discovered the intimate link between electric vehicles and
decentralized electricity in the spring of 2007, when I spent a week
in California driving or being driven in a variety of electrified
vehicles, from glorified golf carts to PHEVs to the "0 to 60 in less
than 4 seconds" Tesla. I was invited by a national travel magazine to
investigate the future of the car based on my 2003 report on the
subject, "A Better Way." Everyone I met who had an EV or a PHEV also
had solar cells on their roofs. And why not? Not only does it make
them more energy self-reliant, but the value of the electricity
generated by the solar array is far higher when it displaces gasoline
than when it displaces conventional electricity.
Indeed, a symbiotic relationship between car and house may be
emerging. California has time-of-day tariffs under which electricity
consumed at peak hours, say, midday on a hot summer's day, can be
several times more expensive than electricity consumed during
nighttime odd-peak hours. If EV owners must use electricity at peak
times, they can tap into the stored electricity in their vehicles.
The EV serves as a source of backup power for the house. More than
one EV owner boasted about how his was the only house with lights on
when the neighborhood suffered a blackout.
If Congress enacts its electrified vehicle incentive, we should see
an immediate surge in conversions and new PHEV and EV sales. In 2010
several EV and PHEV models should be available from major car
companies, albeit in small quantities, and these should allow us to
gauge the costs of an all-electric transportation system.
If I were Al Gore, I would ask Congress not only to pass the EV
incentive but also to phase in a mandate for an all-renewable-fueled
transportation fleet, perhaps beginning with 5 percent of all new
vehicles by 2012 and moving toward 100 percent by 2020. A call to
arms would resonate with the American public. And as both consumers
and citizens, Americans could quickly translate their support into a
mass movement to finally eliminate our addiction to oil.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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