April 9, 2007 5:09 PM PDT

PG&E sees plug-in hybrids as potential profit centers

PG&E sees plug-in hybrids as potential profit centers
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Coming soon: Cars that get 100 miles per gallon

April 25, 2006
SUNNYVALE, Calif.--Plug-in hybrids could one day turn motorists into energy traders, according to Pacific Gas & Electric.

The utility demonstrated on Monday a twist on the concept of the plug-in hybrid, which uses a higher capacity battery than ordinary hybrids like Toyota's Prius. The idea? To let car owners sell electricity purchased overnight back to the grid for a modest profit or to power their homes in the event of an emergency with the Vehicle-to-Grid program, said Bob Howard, a vice president with PG&E.

The demonstration came during the Alternative Energy Solutions Summit, sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and hosted by Advanced Micro Devices at its headquarters here. Public officials from Silicon Valley communities and organizations gathered to hear discussions about how the region can invest and profit from demand for cleaner and more efficient sources of power.

Photos of PG&E event

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California discussed some of the efforts she is taking as the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to get the U.S. government more focused on energy efficiency and alternative sources of power.

"Global warming is the challenge of our generation," she said. "I hope to make this one of the biggest issues in the (2008) presidential race, where the nominees are arguing over who has the better plan to meet this challenge."

Utilities aren't historically known for their environmentally friendly practices, Howard noted, as they produce about 40 percent of all greenhouse gases in the U.S. "But if there has ever been a place to start and gather the interest of customers, California and the (San Francisco) Bay Area is the place."

Hybrids like the Prius have been hot sellers in the Bay Area, and the plug-in hybrid goes a step further. For $10,000, hybrid owners can have a large battery capable of storing 9 kilowatt/hours of electricity installed in their rear cargo area. The car works the same way as a regular hybrid, drawing on the battery at low speeds, but the extra battery can allow the car to get up to 100 miles per gallon of gas, said Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars.

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Video: A car that could help power your home
See a demo of the vehicle-to-grid concept car.

It's easy to see the benefit to the driver and environment, but utility companies could also get a boost from plug-in hybrids, Howard said. The particulars are still being worked out, but PG&E demonstrated how a plug-in hybrid could be connected to a home's electrical system or some other type of collection point at mass-transit hubs or office parking lots and send power back to the charging station--or just through a wall outlet--from the car.

Electricity is cheaper during off-peak consumption hours like the middle of the night, and utilities are also able to use renewable sources of energy during those periods, Howard said. Owners could purchase electricity cheaply at night, store it in their plug-in hybrids, and sell it back to the utility at higher rates during the day--when demand is much higher for electrical power.

There's still a lot of research that needs to be done in this area, but PG&E is studying how to incorporate the technology into its own service vehicles, Howard said. Challenges include figuring out how and where to build collection points, and making it as easy to remove power from a battery as it is to charge the battery.

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31 comments

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We need a $10,000 Hybrid not a $10,000 battery
Until companies start making hybrids affordable to 85% of the planet, the majority of people won't be able to afford them.

$10,000USD for a battery? No wonder it is a high profit product? Amazing that they use global warming in order to scare people into buying their highly priced technology and then go on to brag about how profitable it is to them? What more proof of a scam do you need than skyhigh prices on technology that is supposed to fight global warming.

Make it as affordable as an economy car if you are really serious about fighting global warming and you don't want to have it labeled as a scam.
Posted by Orion Blastar (590 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Simplistic
Orion,
Your point is good, but too simplistic. Any radical new technology (and plug-in hybrids are *all* about radical new battery technology) is going to be very expensive. So, a few people buy them at high prices, hopefully with some government subsidies, and then the economies of mass production kick in slowly and the prices drop. However, expecting the car to be $10k is a bit tough: what can you really buy, car-wise, for $10k nowadays? Not much.
Posted by enovikoff (170 comments )
Link Flag
Re: We need a $10,000 Hybrid not a $10,000 battery
I couldn't agree with you more. That's been my biggest gripe, most people simply can't afford today's hybrids.

I understand that vehicle manufacturers need to make money, and I'm all for it. But if the average person can't afford a hybrid, what good is it in terms of reducing pollution?

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
Storage could make sense...
Adding the storage capacity of a lot of plug-in hybrids would allow
a greater percentage of inherently-variable wind and solar
electricity to be added to the grid. I'd want to look into whether the
batteries are cycled more than they would be otherwise be, though,
and therefore whether or not they would wear out more quickly
before I signed up for a program like this. Could affect the
profitability of the scheme for the car owner.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i only go 20 miles a night anyhow.
Having a heat engine on board makes sense for longer trips.

Maybe it could be trailer mounted, and left behind for local trips.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Link Flag
what?
this is the stupidest idea I've seen. It's all a marketing ploy, and has nothing to do with actually making a difference.
Posted by weebnuts (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't mess with my battery!
Don'tr these folks know that every charge/discharge cycle reduces the lifespan of a battery? Do they really think I want the utility company to wear out my battery so they can find some use for their mostly useless wind powered electricity. Build nuclear plants and stop wasting billions on errecting wind turbines that
mostly do nothing eccept screw up the grid's operations. I'm tired of being held hostage by California's environmental morons. Ask those folks how much those 100 megawatt windfarms REALLY produce (about 25 megawatts) and when they produce it (in Texas during 2006, wind generated a pathetic 2.5% capacity during peak demand, which means all that money for turbines meant nothing when it came time to increase capacity. New power plants still have to be constructed every single year and just as many as if wind power didn't even exist.).
Wind truly sucks.
Posted by theBike45 (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nukes would make more sense!
Thanks for mentioning it. I have gotten a bit tired of mentioning
nukes myself, given the responses I sometimes get. Did you ever
take a look at the Integral Fast Reactor concept? Greatly reduced
waste mass and lifetime, increased fuel use efficiency, increased
reactor safety, reduced proliferation risk, etc. Google it sometime if
you're interested.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
Still not the answer
The Hybrids are still not the answer. They still contribute to the
problem. No matter if they get 100 mpg. You still end up putting
the same amount of CO2 into the air, it just takes a little longer.
One technology that answers the problem is the compressed air
car that is being developed in France.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.theaircar.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.theaircar.com/</a>
Even this is a stop gap because you can switch over to run gas.
A compressed -air car using Angelo Di Pietro design would work
better.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://pesn.com/" target="_newWindow">http://pesn.com/</a>
2006/05/11/9500269_Engineair_Compressed-Air_Motor/

The existing infrastructure could be use,just convert the gas
pumps to air compressors. No pollution from gas spills,fumes.
During sunny days,use solar to run the compressors like the
Hydrogen filling station in Las Vegas, without the danger of a
fire or explosion.
Posted by twotall610 (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hybrids a partial answer
You are right in that hybrids still create CO2. You are wrong in that they create less per mile. Over the life of the car the Hybrid will create less CO2 than a non hybrid. They are a partial answer and a way to slow things down. Which may not be perfect but it's a step in the right direction and it's one that people can take right now instead of waiting.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Link Flag
Re: Still not the answer
The energy required to compress that air still has to come from somewhere. As sexy as the thought of an "air engine" is, chemical batteries and electric motors are far more efficient than compressor pumps and compressed air motors.
Also, electric motors have been around for more than a century and are a well-understood, easily deployable technology. Air motors of the scale necessary to move a vehicle are the domain of fanciful French day-dreamers.
Posted by grant_stevens (3 comments )
Link Flag
I'll Take the Cheap Jab
Hexavalent Chromium Batteries.
Posted by `WarpKat (275 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'll take the expensive jab
Antimatter Dilithium Crystals.

:)
Posted by Orion Blastar (590 comments )
Link Flag
DC to AC conversion makes idea pointless
The concept of charging a hybrid at different times of day is
good, but it will never make economic sense to sell back from an
auto into a central grid. This would require converting the car's
DC power back to AC, which is hundreds of dollars capital cost
for something that would only be used 100 hours per year. Add
to that the lower inherent efficiency of an auto engine burning
gasoline (compared to a power plant burning oil), and the wear
and tear of running the engine. Even if you "ignore economics,"
or in PG&#38;E's case persuade its ratepayers to subsidize the whole
project, the CO2 impact of this concept is dubious, as others
have suggested.
Posted by Rbohn (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Engine probably would run
Thanks for pointing out that if the electricity sold back to the utility
came from the car's engine, it would be pointless. Maybe the idea
would be just to use the "top" portion of the battery charge, and
save enough charge to get you to work and home, perhaps using
the engine only as much as you might without selling power.
Sounds doubtful that would work much of the time, though.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
Not true
All you need is an inverter. You can buy 12V DC to 115V AC inverters for about $10. The larger issue would be the switching and metering required to make this scheme work.
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Link Flag
Off Peak >>> Peak == profit.
The differential between "dump," "off peak," "peak," and "spot" electricity prices make any form of off-grid storage a profit center.

Any renewable collection system relies on a DC storage component. Net Metering, a federally mandated program that requires the electric utility to pay you the same price that they charge you for electricity, is a great deal for the utility and for owners of solar to electricity capacity, the most power is generated during the afternoon hours, just when the demand is highest. Then in the evening, when the homeowner no longer is a net seller, the grid has plenty of overcapacity.

This is just the opposite side of the coin from storing late night and selling it. This here $10,000 battery only holds $.90 worth of electricity at Las Vegas retail prices.

If you could fill the battery every night with penny electricity, and sell all of it for full price every day, you would make 80 cents a day.

Assuming no other maintainence cost, your battery would pay for itself every 30 years or so.

BUT: If you could run the engine of this car on natural gas, which is plentiful and cheap, the electrical energy could be sold to the grid, and the "waste" heat used to heat or cool the home.

Pacific Gas and Electric is the perfect energy company to benefit from these scenerios. They get it, and aren't afraid to fund research.

And, of couse, every lifeform on earth benefits from the carbon savings.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The real problem with this scheme...
is that if people move to electric or plug-in hybrid cars in any significant numbers, the "off peak" hours will quickly cease to be "off peak" because people will be charging their batteries overnight.
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Link Flag
He's a salesman
This guy is a "Car salesman",he makes it look like you will make
millions off of his scheme. Charge at night, sell back in the
morning, then run on gas to get to work. Defeats the purpose.
Why not just buy a load of batteries, store them in the basement
and charge at night , sell back in the morning.
Posted by twotall610 (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
?
How did this guy become a vice -president. Not on brain power.
Must be related to the CEO.
Posted by twotall610 (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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