Google investing heavily in plug-in hybrid car research
Google through its philanthropic arm Google.org is giving away tens of millions of dollars in grants to research and develop plug-in hybrid technologies for cars. This includes a Google test fleet of Toyota Prius and Ford Escape Hybrids which have been modified with larger battery packs and plugs so that they can be plugged into electrical outlets.
As most people drive no more than 35 miles on a typical day, a car with enlarged battery packs charged from the electric grid will be able to significantly reduce their need for gasoline by using power stored in batteries. At the same time because they have gasoline engines, these plug-in hybrids are still able to take long trips or go without recharging via electrical outlets when necessary.
According to Google:
- the average fuel economy of cars in the United States is 19.8 mpg;
- Google's standard Toyota Prius hybrids get 40.9 mpg; and
- Google's modified plug-in Toyota Prius hybrids are getting 73.6 mpg.
In terms of gasoline saved, the plug-in Prius hybrid used 73% less gasoline than the average American car and almost 45% less gasoline than the standard Prius. Now, obviously, the plug-in hybrid consumes electricity from the electric grid to replace gasoline and Google reports that their cars are currently consuming 113.9 Wh/mile. Still, Google estimates that at an average of $0.08/kWh for electricity and $3.00/gallon for gasoline, someone who drives 12,000 miles per year would save $1,200 per year and eliminate 68% of their car CO2 emissions. Best of all, because most plug-in hybrids would be charging themselves at night, when electrical demands are at their lowest, the current U.S. national electrical capacity could power around 160,000,000 plug-in hybrid cars or 3/4 of the total U.S. passenger vehicle fleet without needing to add new power plants.
In a novel extension of their funding of plug-in hybrid research, Google is working with California electric utility PG&E to capitalize on the fact that plug-in hybrids can charge themselves at night when electrical demands on the grid is at its lowest. Google and PG&E are experimenting with turning plug-in hybrids' relationship with the electrical grid into a two way affair. Their idea is that if there were tens-of-thousands or millions of hybrids plugged into the grid at any one time they could act as a massive electric storage array. Just as the consumer would pay the power company for the electricity to charge the batteries of their plug-in hybrid, the power company could pay the consumer to draw some power off of the hybrid's batteries during periods of very high demand. This in turn could significantly reduce pressure on an electrical grid during periods of extreme demands.
Over the past few weeks I have written extensively about the coal industry's efforts to lobby Congress to fund tens of billions of dollars in subsidies and loan guarantees for coal-to-liquids (CTL) research and development. Their justification is that the U.S. needs the CTL technology to help reduce our dependence on foreign crude oil. By the coal industry's own estimates, however, it will cost over $200 billion and take 20 years to replace just 10% of our nation's crude oil needs with coal via CTL. On top of its high cost for marginal results, CTL will have a tremendous negative environmental impact in regards to climate change. As I reported previously, the EPA estimates that compared to normal crude oil derived diesel fuel, diesel fuel derived from coal will produce 3.7% more greenhouse gases if carbon capture and sequestration is used or 118.5% more greenhouse gases if carbon capture and sequestration is not used.
Juxtaposed against each other are two visions of our energy future. On one hand, the coal industry is busy lobbying Congress for massive grants on what will most certainly be a boondoggle and potentially an environmental disaster. On the other hand, Google is busy making partnerships and funding research that will most certainly produce real solutions to our energy and environmental crisis. Google's efforts promise to bring cost effective plug-in hybrid technologies to the consumer on a large scale that could quite literally displace 30% of the total U.S. crude oil needs and 52% U.S. oil import needs. It would also reduce total U.S. CO2 emissions by 27%. This technology could even start to have an immediate impact on our crude oil consumption.
The next time you fill up your vehicle with fuel and look at how much you just spent, ask yourself this question: whose vision of the world do you like best? Do you prefer the coal industry's vision where they get tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars to produce a product that still must be sold at today's fuel prices in order to be cost effective and does nothing to reduce the average consumer's energy expenses? Or do you prefer Google's vision of the world where your vehicle consumes up to 73% less fuel, we have a real decrease in dependence upon foreign oil and saves you over a thousand dollars a year in fuel costs?
Related Editors' Blog entries
- Coal-to-liquids vs. energy efficiency and renewable energies Thu, 14 Jun 2007
- Google and Intel found computer energy efficiency initiative Wed, 13 Jun 2007
- Subsidies for coal to liquids compared to funding for other energy research Mon, 04 Jun 2007
- Congress proposes massive subsidies to convert coal into diesel fuel Thu, 31 May 2007
- Cities will be able to monitor carbon emissions with online Microsoft application Fri, 18 May 2007
- Compact Florescent Lights: Are They Worth the Switch? Apr 18, 2007
- Global Trends in Energy Technology Innovation: An Introduction Jun 18, 2007
- Hydrogen Fuel Cells: Energy of the Future Aug 22, 2006
On Other Websites
- Toyota's comments on the challenges of plug-in hybrids
- U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Information Administration quick oil facts
- Google.org's vehicle calculator - this provides Google's comparison data between standard cars, Google's hybrids and plug-in hybrids.