Are “Plug-In Hybrids” the Next Logical Step?

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Introduced over 10 years ago, hybrids are cars that utilize both gas motors and electric motors for propulsion. On a hybrid, the gas motor is powered by gasoline, of course, and the electric motor is powered by a bank of batteries. Engineers have designed them so these two different power plants work together to deliver high efficiency and great gas mileage. The Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight are two popular examples of the hybrid category.

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Volt sales start to pick up

Chevy Volt sales have been sluggish this year and have not met expectations. This is disappointing for those of us who want to see plug-in hybrids take off.

That may be changing as GM finally starts to promote the Volt more heavily with a commercial advertising campaign. Sales increased substantially in October, so perhaps the tide is turning. That said, one month means little and we’ll have to see if this continues.

  

Plug-in hybrids should NOT be a problem for our electric utilities

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The Plain Dealer has a misleading headline regarding plug-in hybrids: “Plug-in hybrids could prove costly for utility companies.” That’s true only if we approach the issue of charging plug-in hybrids without using our heads, but as the article points out there are very logical ways to address this potential problem.

Scott Moore, vice president of transmission for American Electric Power, said that issue could be solved either by smart chargers on the cars or by smart charging plugs in houses. If drivers plugged in their cars at 6 p.m., but the car didn’t start charging until 2 a.m., the system could probably handle the demand.

Even better would be if the driver plugged his car into an Internet-connected charger that could switch on and off as power was available. On a blustery day, when wind farms were producing extra power, cars could charge in the early evening. On a more typical day, charging could happen late at night.

“You’d get about 80 percent of the benefit from just changing the time of charging until early morning,” Moore said. “You’d get an extra 20 percent benefit from letting (utility companies) figure out when to charge you.”

The solution is obvious, so at least they got that part right. It also highlights the need for a smart grid and smart meters connected to the Internet so we can see how we use electricity and how we can make minor modifications to our behavior, or set clear guidelines, so that we use energy when it’s least expensive.

  

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