HG: SustainAbility Column December 20, 2008

With automakers begging for bailouts, instead of visions of sugarplum fairies, I’m wondering if my dream of owning a plug-in electric hybrid is any closer to reality.

I’m convinced plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and electric vehicles are the wave of the future. They would greatly reduce carbon emissions and our need for fuel. My goal is to hang onto my low-mileage 2001 car until I can replace it with an affordable plug-in car.

Promising “auto alternatives for the 21st century,” http://www.hybridcars.com is a powerhouse of information about the emerging industry. Basically, current hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid, have a conventional gas engine with an electric motor and rechargeable batteries. The batteries are charged when energy from starting and stopping is stored in the batteries.

PHEVs also have electric motors with batteries and a downsized, back-up internal combustion engine that comes into play when the batteries are drained. The battery packs are larger than in current hybrids and can be recharged by connecting to a normal electrical outlet.

A PHEV can travel up to 60 miles on a charge. The average American driver travels 30 miles per day, so with a PHEV most people could accommodate daily driving without using any gas.

An electric vehicle has an electric motor powered by rechargeable batteries instead of a gasoline engine. You can recharge the batteries with common household electricity.

Using electricity to power cars is cheaper per mile to “fuel” than using gasoline. Existing electric capacity could recharge millions of vehicles overnight and during other off-peak hours without putting a strain on the grid.

In fact, PHEVs can be equipped to feed electricity stored in the batteries back into the grid in something called vehicle-to-grid technology. This idea is in early testing phases in Boulder County in conjunction with Xcel Energy’s SmartGridCity.

Obviously, plug-ins produce the least amount of carbon emissions, well to wheel, when powered by electricity from renewable resources such as wind or solar. However, even when the electricity comes from the regular American power grid, they emit 42 percent less carbon emissions than standard vehicles.

Right now, PHEVs are not readily available to individuals in the United States. If things pan out, 2010 is the target year for the Chevy Volt and Chrysler’s line of plug-ins and electric vehicles.

Who knows how the current financial situation will affect these plans?

Can’t wait for PHEVs to hit the market? Conversion kits are available to turn your regular hybrid into a plug-in. Hybrids Plus, out of Boulder, sells and installs conversion kits for the Prius and Ford Escape hybrids. The kits are expensive, but some people are very motivated.

Nationally, demand for sustainable vehicles is growing.

For example, more than 3,600 people have already put down deposits on Aptera’s two-seat, three-wheeled electric vehicle, which looks like something right out of the Jetsons. Aptera, a California company, plans to ship the first batch, priced in the $30,000-range, late in 2009 and produce 45,000 vehicles in 2010. To learn more, go to aptera.com.

If you’re ready to do more than just fantasize about a new car, go to http://www.greenercars.org/highlights_greenest.htm for a list of this year’s greenest cars compiled by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

Next week, we’ll look at what local car dealers have to say about alternative cars.

Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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