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First Plug-In Prius Delivered

prius.jpgBased on their sad experience trying to sell all-electric vehicles, automobile manufacturers are convinced that the public will not buy cars that have to be plugged in. Unfortunately this has made hybrid manufacturers shy away from giving customers the opportunity to plug in hybrid vehicles.

So, third party companies are filling the gap. EnergyCS has just delivered the first retrofitted Toyota Prius that can be plugged in.

Los Angeles, March 31, 2006--EnergyCS, the Monrovia-based engineering firm, announced today that it has delivered the first Toyota Prius sedan retrofitted with plug-in hybrid technology to California's South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) for testing and evaluation... Using a normal house outlet, a nightly re-charge of about $1 worth of electricity cuts the Toyota Prius gasoline consumption in half for over 50 miles the follwing day.

The conversion involves more than simply adding a plug. New lithium-ion batteries allow the car to hold more electric power than what a driver could expect to harvest from braking.

The FAQ state that most drivers will get about 100 miles per gallon. But with mild acceleration and low speeds - 55 mph on the Freeway - 200mpg could be possible for the 50 - 60 mile boost range.

At low speeds this vehicle will operate all electric. At higher speeds the gasoline engine will engage, but electric power will continue to provide a boost.

You may find at 55mph that 1/4 of the power is coming from gasoline and 3/4 from electricity, but at 75mph the contribution may be 2/3rd gas and 1/3rd electric. Even though the electric contribution is the same in both cases, the gasoline contribution (and thus mpg) can be dramatically different.

The car becomes a normal hybrid after the 50-60 mile boost range. And its still a normal hybrid if you forgot to plug in the car the night before. There's no requirement to ever plug the vehicle in - just the opportunity.

Comments

The reason that plug-in vehicles are a pipe dream is that we have a severe shortage of electricity in the US. These cars could take down the entire electrical grid especially in California.

This shortage will continue as long as the left continues to block construction of new power plants. If plentiful supplies of electricity are available, manufactures will respond.

The concept of plug-in cars is a valid one and would reduce our dependency on oil. But we need the power plants first.

I'm of the opinion that we do not need more centralized power plants. What we need is more home power generation and by the time the average American has an electric car (2013 or so) the average American will probably also be producing his/her own electricity. Centralized power plants are dirty, inefficient, and dangerous. They are also a weakness in the US infrastructure that could easily be exploited by an enemy.
What I see happening is a gradual increase in, first, plug-in hybrids, and then fully electric battery or fuel-cell vehicles over the next decade. This gradual increase, along with a gradual increase in US population, will slowly drive up the cost of electricity. At the same time this is going on various forms of solar electric equipment will continue to become more affordable and more efficient. You've got to love market capitalism. Hopefully Big Brother doesn't try to help out

Micah, I don't buy the comparison between centralized and decentralized power production. Having tens or hundreds of thousands of power sources on a grid generates a lot of power losses which wouldn't be present in a large power plant placed near electricity consumers. Second, deciding which power source is "dirtier" depends a lot on how you weight the various sources of pollution. The mass manufacture of solar cells isn't a clear win. And power plants aren't that dirty.

At least, decentralized power sources would reduce the vulnerability of customers to grid outages even if the power sources increase the unreliability of the grid.

Karl, thanks for the reply. Your reasoning makes sense but you began with a false premise. What I meant by decentralized home production of energy was not that these people would be contributing to the grid, but rather that the grid would become obsolete. It is precisely the point that centralized power production requires the transmission of electricity over considerable distances. In order to do this the electricity must be converted to very high current AC. This is extremely inefficient because (1) low voltage DC appliances are much more efficient (including LED lighting) and (2) a good amount of power (as heat and radio waves) is lost in the transmission process due to impedance and resistance.
So this inefficiency also makes the process more 'dirty' because more fuel is spent, and even if it's nuclear there is still waste.
Also its more dangerous because it provides for the possibility of a centralized breakdown or attack that could result in disaster, it pollutes our air contributing to illnesses, and in the case of nuclear it contributes the the proliferation of fissionable material.
For all these reason it only makes sense to me that the market would eventually select for the most efficient model.

The reason that plug-in vehicles are a pipe dream is that we have a severe shortage of electricity in the US. These cars could take down the entire electrical grid especially in California.

Plug-in hybrids could actually be very good for the grid, since they can be made extremely dispatchable. That is, if demand exceeds supply, they can be disconnected from the grid (in which case the owners use them like non-plug-in hybrids for a few days), or even (if equipped with synchronous inverters) act as sources of electric power instead of sinks. Most of the time, when demand is not at a peak, they can be plugged in.

If the grid reliability becomes poor, I expect sales of hybrids capable of outputing 120 V AC to increase, not decrease. They would make dandy backup generators for a home.

BTW, new plant construction is proceeding apace in the US, including advancing plans for multiple new nuclear powerplants, particularly in the southeast.

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