Thursday, September 22, 2005

Here and Now

Here is a new article in today's CSM.

Plug-in hybrids: a here-and-now alternative
By Mark Clayton
The Christian Science Monitor

The solution to the nation's emerging oil crisis may be sitting quietly in Ron Gremban's garage. It gets 80 to 100 miles to the gallon, he says. And if you don't go too fast, driving that gallon's worth of distance could cost $1 or less.

Officially, it's called a "plug-in hybrid electric vehicle" or PHEV. But think of it as a Toyota Prius with an electrical cord.

By charging the car at night, Mr. Gremban, who lives in the San Francisco area, uses cheap off-peak power-plant capacity. That extra juice lets him tootle around town using the car's electric motor for 50 to 60 miles without requiring the hybrid's gasoline motor to turn itself on.

One auto critic who tested a plug-in Prius recently reported that in normal driving, not trying to go easy on the throttle, he would still have to fill up the tank just once in 5-1/2 months.

With gasoline hovering near $3 a gallon, several companies are beginning to back the idea of plugging cars into the electrical grid. The technology is also winning some surprising endorsements.

Energy hawks like R. James Woolsey, former director of central intelligence, touts the PHEV as a here-and-now technology to answer the nation's needs. So does Set America Free, another group of energy security experts.

Other companies and cities are also showing signs of interest. For example:

• In Austin, Texas, the city utility has an incentive program for consumers willing to plug in at night to absorb cheap off-peak wind power generated for a few cents per kilowatt hour.

"It's like having a second small fuel tank in your car," says Felix Kramer, founder of Cal-cars, a nonprofit tech group in the Bay Area. "You fill it at home by plugging it into the socket at night - and it gives you transportation around town for the equivalent of less than $1 a gallon."



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