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Plugging the Plug-In Hybrid

Pete Nortman, President of EnergyCS, showing his PHEV Prius to symposium participants

The “Public Power Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) Symposium” wrapped up Friday in Los Angeles, where more than fifty key public power leaders from across the nation had convened at City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power headquarters.

The symposium was co-sponsored by the American Public Power Association (APPA), a nationwide consortium of state and municipal public utilities, joint action agencies, and service providers to the public electric power industry; and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-profit research organization funded by more than 100 energy-industry companies in North America and worldwide.

Participants were briefed on the current state of plug-in hybrid technology, and reviewed PHEV initiatives at all government levels. They also discussed the technology’s potential effect on—and benefit to—the electric power industry, and the increasingly likely convergence of the electric power and transportation industries.

Some highlights of the two-day symposium:

  • Mark Duvall, Manager of Technology Development for EPRI, made one of many business cases for plug-in hybrids, and gave an update on the PHEV pilot program co-sponsored by EPRI, Southern California Edison (SCE), and DaimlerChrysler, which is producing six Dodge Sprinter PHEV delivery vans for evaluation.

    Duvall argued that express delivery vans, with their rapid acceleration and braking cycles, are ideal for PHEV technology. The first Sprinter PHEV vans are now being tested around the clock on the streets of Stuttgart. Phase II of the collaborative pilot program will produce 30 PHEV Sprinters, built and validated as close to mass production levels as possible.

    Duvall called for more collaborative PHEV demonstration programs, especially between utility companies and vehicle manufacturers. He noted that with light-duty vehicle fuel consumption projected to increase by 62% by 2025, every American—absent passenger car PHEVs in the market—would have to drive the Prius equivalent of their current vehicle to keep national LDV fuel consumption at current levels.

  • Roger Duncan, Deputy General Manager of Distributed Services at Austin Energy in Austin, Texas, described his city’s plug-in campaign, which is widely viewed as the most aggressive pro-plug in hybrid campaign of any municipality in the country. Austin’s City Council has voted to support plug-ins, and Austin Energy has promised $1 million in rebates to cover the cost difference between plug-ins and conventional hybrids. (Earlier post.)

    Noting that “we have a vehicle fueling station in this room, and in every room in this building,” Duncan offered that in his experience, it is not hard to convince non-technical people that plug-in hybrids are a promising technology. “When you explain it, they get it,” he said. Duncan would like to see flex-fuel plug-ins on the market as soon as possible.

    He allowed that in the past, detractors had worried that a plug-in hybrid which got its current from relatively “dirty” electrical grids would produce more emissions and greenhouse gases than a conventional hybrid, but that many recent studies had countered that concern.

    That debate is currently in resolution.


    Other speakers at the symposium echoed that sentiment, as well.

    Duncan also announced that his city’s original write-in campaign in support of plug-ins, which had already expanded its goal to signing on the fifty largest cities in the United States, would expand further to a national level in response to an outpouring of interest.

    The Plug-In Partners National Campaign will be formally announced in Washington, D.C. on January 24, 2006, and Duncan hopes to get as many partners on board as possible before that date.

  • Greg Hanssen of EnergyCS described his company’s progress with its conversion of Toyota Prius vehicles to plug-in hybrids. EnergyCS will be wrapping up a 90-day, 10-vehicle early-adopter durability test by the end of the year, and has set a target of 200 commercial conversions in 2006. (Earlier post.)

    Hanssen affirmed that his company is still committed to the conversion’s original price target of $12,000—“maybe lower”—and hoped to offer a plug-in conversion of the Ford Escape hybrid by the end of 2006. The conversions would be carried out by eDrive and CleanTech, two companies affiliated with EnergyCS.

  • Anne Korin, co-chair of the Institute for the Advancement of Global Security (IAGS), as well as the Set America Free Coalition, made an impassioned presentation on the immediate need to tackle energy independence. IAGS has received media attention in recent months for its ability to bring together conservatives such as George Shultz and former CIA chief R. James Woolsey with environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

    With China holding a seat on the U.N. Security Council, energy-related tensions between that country and the United States could affect secondary issues, Korin said. For example, China has consistently opposed sanctions on Sudan, a country that supplies oil to Chinese refineries.

    She emphasized that IAGS is focused on near-term solutions, and that its strategy is to build on existing consensus, rather than examine differences such as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard and the debate over drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), in an effort to achieve national energy independence as soon as possible.

    The technology is there. We are looking at political questions.

    She also called for an expansion of flex-fuel usage, noting that “we don’t impose tariffs on oil coming from Saudi Arabia, but we impose tariffs on ethanol coming in from Brazil and the Caribbean.”

    IAGS is focusing on plug-in hybrids, Korin explained, because they can be brought into the mainstream relatively quickly.

    Fuel cells will not be on the road in any number for at least 20 years, and we don’t have 20 years.

    She described bills supported by IAGS, such as the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act, a Senate bill introduced by Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), which mandates a reduction in oil consumption of 2.5 million barrels per day by 2016, 7 million barrels per day by 2026 and 10 million barrels per day by 2031. A similar bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives. (Earlier post.)

Friday morning’s session featured a brainstorming session to map out new strategies that public power utility companies can use to promote plug-in hybrid technology. A printout from was distributed at the session, which showed that seven out of the twelve largest producers of air pollution in the vicinity of the symposium were related to the production of petroleum.

— Jack Rosebro



Mike, this doesn't really relate to this post, but if you choose Topics in the nav bar and look under International, there's a link to "Russia" which actually points to South America.
Just thought i'd point it out.
btw, thanks for the post, though it seems to me that Anne Korin's statement that "Fuel cells will not be on the road in any number for at least 20 years" seems to be a bit too pessimistic.


Ooops. :-) Thanks for letting me know.

Jack Rosebro

" seems to me that Anne Korin's statement that "Fuel cells will not be on the road in any number for at least 20 years" seems to be a bit too pessimistic."

One thing to keep in mind is that Korin is focusing on whether or not the technology will meaningfully reduce our nation's overall oil consumption. I think it's safe to say that fuel cells probably won't do that for at least twenty years. No manufacturer will commit to showroom models before 2020, and the hydrogen infrastructure keeps hitting new snags.

Don't get me wrong: I am very enthusiastic about fuel cells, but I am also realistic about when we might see them in large numbers. Is the technology there? Absolutely. Are they ready to be competitive consumer products. Not by a long shot. I wish things were different.

John McConnell

It seems so incredibly obvious to me that plug-ins are the way to go, working our way to fully electric cars. It's all about batteries -- instead of putting billions into hydrogen, we should be putting 100s of billions into creating super-efficient, long-lasting batteries. From an earlier post these batteries seem to be getting much closer. To me that is the clear future and we should put all our efforts toward making the transition to that place.


Regardless of the technology, we still need to make our vehicles as efficient and as unnecessary as possible. At first, if I understand off peak power, the impact on GHG emissions will be minimal or even negative since they can be recharged at night and may not impact the base load.

The thing that it is still not clear to me, however, is this. While the vehicle is in electric mode provided by the grid, what is the net impact of GHG emissions over gasoline, assuming its recharging required electricity production above the base load.

On the other hand, since recharging at night could be intermittent, these vehicles seem like a good candidate to utlize wind power for recharging. For that matter, during the day, it would be a good candidate for recharging by solar power at PV stations provided at the work place.

In any event, the goal should be implementation of the technology without any new fossil fuel based power stations.

Harvey D

I can't agree more with John and Tom. The final goal should be fully electric cars with a possible interim or complementary period with plug-ins for 10 to 20 years while more powerful efficient batteries are being developped.
Fuel cell vehicules may become ideal for long haul heavier vehicles and buses with plenty of room for fuel storage but is not essential for lighter shorter range cars. Why produce electricity on-board when it can be done more efficiently in large Hydro, Wind and Sun power plants.


You do know the only difference between a series hybrid plug in and a fuel cell plug in will be a fuel cell instead of a gas engine dont you? Oh and a hydrogen tank instead of a gas tank.

Everything else is the same.

Oh and fuel cell powered trasnport is going on sale this year or next in the form of fuel cell powered bikes.

While the cost of fuel cells is still fairly high the cost of small fuel cells is not and they are working on automated production of em within a few years and that will cut the cost massively.


Pretty exciting stuff,
I think this technology is a slam dunk!
But it seems like it is taking a long time to come to market. What is taking the eDrive conversions so long to come to market? Maybe there isn't the market for it that they think there is. 200 conversions for the whole year. That seems very low. When there is going to be over 100,000 Prius sold this year alone.

little shop

Plug ins will happen. How fast or slow depends on how often the 'oil shocks' happen. Oil is going to go up, just we dont know when. It could happen next month or it may happen in five years.

Oil will go over $100 as the supply slows. I just hope it happens slower vs faster so people can adapt. When they do plug ins are the way to go. If I had a 30 mile electric capable plug in I would use 1/5 the gas I do now.

Electric grid worries? With wind, solar and off peak charging the grid can handle it. The change wont happen overnight so the electric companies can adapt to the change. 30 years from now we could be using plug ins running off the grid or from own own solar with far less co2 being produced. I would pay $28,000 for a plug in prius with 30 mile range, I think thats going to be available within two years by edrive or calcars.

Jack Rosebro

"Oh, and fuel cell powered transport is going on sale this year or next"

Perhaps. I hope you're right. However, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been "going on sale this year or next" for the last ten years. The first fuel cell vehicles will not affect oil dependence. Only mass production will do that. Toyota now looks to 2025 as a target for serious commercialization of their fuel cell vehicles.

"Electric grid worries? With wind, solar and off peak charging the grid can handle it."

The electric power industry agrees with this reader. In response to a question from one utility representative at the PHEV symposium, a speaker put the number of PHEVs that the national electrical grid could comfortably handle overnight at four million. It will be a while before we have more than four million PHEVs plugged in at night.


The difference is this time the fuel cell vehicles have a mass producable form in this case a small compact electric bike powered by a small fuel cell.

As I remember it they are setting up in china to build em and the fuel cell is made in china.


The big problem with PUHs now is that the batteries won't last. Remember how upset people got last year when their iPod batteries started to die? It was a big scandal. Well, the iPod was three hundred dollars. Imagine that same thing happening with a twelve thousand dollar battery. People are going to be furious. Well, all two hundred of them, anyway.


Hal-come on, you know replacement hybrid batteries are well under $1000 and most are still under warranty. This issue needs honest clarification, not needless embellishment. BTW, where do we get cheap, clean H2 again?


They said they plan to sell the fuel for the bikes for about 3 bucks a fillup.


Environment and power infrastructure aside, if you charge a car overnight:
~8 hrs, ~30 cents per kW hour charging at 2kW for argument's sake, then that works out to $4.80 per full charge to get you through the day (gross estimation here).
Over 7 days in the week this works out to $33.6
Now I don't know exactly what kind of range you might get per day (Little shop said 30, but that seems little to me) or if you use up all the juice, but depending on the car you might be better or worse off compared to actually filling up at the servo.
Certainly $4.80 for 30 miles range is amusing

Don Fletcher

A feature of the prius is that it recaptures power on braking. THat is, unless the battery is already fully or mostly charged.

Plug ins will not allow the prius to fully use the recapture feature in the first 30 km. Ok, so we are still using up the rather limited kw power of the electric motor, and yes, we can still use recapture if we are powering ONLY via the battery. (there is always enough room to put in as much recaptured power as the vehicle consumed to get up to speed. But if you are using the gas motor too, sorry, out of luck doing recapture.

Recall that te conversion cost of a prius to be a plug in prius is more than the whole cost of a lot of lower cost cars, so someone is not thinking of getting this out to the mass of car owners.

We may see a system using wind power to generate NH3 instead of pure hydrogen, as it readily liquifies and does not readily escape through a steel container the way H2 does.
NH3 can be split catalytically to give back H2 for use in a hydrogen cell.
The cost of carrying around a lot of nitrogen atoms as binders for the hydrogen is the downside, but it makes it feasible to store a lot of fuel without inordinate pressure, with little losses.

There are methods for storing limited quantities of H2 as in a vehicle but to store megalitres it may be impractical without reverting to NH3.

Other than wind power, we may have to discuss using Nuclear as an electrical source to avoid creating great volumes of GHG, but we should be careful not to put reactors on land that has a water table below it, that worst possible design flaw that can give us the 'China Syndrome'.

Felix Kramer

has links to the PDFs of all the papers [I've included a few annotations]
We've added a link to this page at

2005 American Public Power Association PHEV Symposium Presentations
November 17 & 18, 2005
Los Angeles, California

What are Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles:
An Overview of the Current State of the Technology and Where it is Going.
* Dr. Mark Duvall, Manager of Technology Development, EPRI (39 slides)
[Includes recent battery information plus link to EPRI Journal Fall 2005 article on PHEVs]

A Vision of the Future:
A Global Perspective of the Environmental Benefits of PHEVs and the Impact on Electric Utilities and Generation.
* Roger Duncan, Deputy General Manager, Distributed Energy Services, Austin Energy (15 slides)
* William Glauz, Manager of Renewable and Emerging Technologies, LADWP (13 slides)
[Los Angeles-specific and utility-specific info]
* Ed Kjaer, Director of Electric Transportation, Southern California Edison (31 slides)
[Big-picture presentation]

Why We Should (and May Have to) Pursue a PHEV Future:
Legislative and Regulatory Rules and Incentives Driving this Technology for Utilities and Your Customers.
* Dean Taylor, Senior Technical Specialist, Electric Transportation Division, Southern California Edison (32 slides)
[overview of state Air Resources Board provisions, federal legislation, strategies]
* Brian Wynne, President, Electric Drive Transportation Association (17 slides)
[national legislative focus]

National PHEV Initiatives:
An Overview of the Strategic and Security Concerns Driving a National Debate on PHEVs and National Initiatives Promoting a Commercial Application of the Technology.
* Greg Hanssen, President, EDrive Systems LLC (9 slides)
["pushing PHEV technology from the ground up"]

Utility PHEV Initiatives:
How Some Utilities are Promoting PHEVs and Why.
* Roger Duncan, Deputy General Manager, Distributed Energy Services, Austin Energy, Coordinator, Plug In Partnerships (7 slides)
[information on the partnerships/"soft" fleet order strategy]
* John Markowitz, PHEV Program Manager, New York Power Authority (17 slides)

-- Felix Kramer, founder, California Cars Initiative


Nothing will help our GHG situation unless we stop using so much power overall. Reducing the amount each uses helps, but if we double the population and its demands then where have got for so much effort.....?
I don't see the switch to full electricas being a problem except from the oil companies' perspective -it is a win for people though....and the technology is NOT new! It is not about technology, it is about poitics and power (of a different kind). design electric vehicles that reflect the technology's realities, the varying needs of different people - i.e all electric for short city driving, hybrid of some kind for longer trips, car sharing for those infrequent trips....etc. And of course public transit systems designed to meet people's needs so they are useful and cheap. There are many solutions to these problems, and often it is an attitude shift not a technological one that will make the most difference and at the least cost.

Fuel cells? hmmm, so lets see, we take electriciy and make hydrogen so we can make electricity - the law of thermodynamics has something to say about this process with regard to efficiency I believe.

Lance Funston

This calculation on cost for recharging the PHEV for 8hrs at $0.30/KhW...
First off, do you really need 8 hrs to fully recharge? Second, I don't think I'm paying $0.30/KhW? Average PG&E is closer to $0.12.

So call that $1.92 for 8hrs at 2kw and if you go 30 miles thats still looking pretty good for pocketbook and planet compared with $2.50 gasoline (that will take you 25-30 miles in an average car).

I've heard even more optimistic operation cost calculations (though amortizing the system cost is already a tough sell).

An Engineer

"Fuel cells? hmmm, so lets see, we take electriciy and make hydrogen so we can make electricity - the law of thermodynamics has something to say about this process with regard to efficiency I believe."

To which one can only add the small matter of cost. Each fuel cell vehicle currently costs about $1 million. How much "research" is it going to take to bring that cost down to what consumers are willing to pay? Hint: We are talking about a 100-fold decrease!

Fuel cells may be great for space travel. They may even find application in certain electric power plants. But, they are not coming to a vehicle most of us could afford anytime soon. And in this case "soon" should include the next century or two...

Jack Rosebro

Felix, thanks for listing the links to the PowerPoint presentations from the PHEV symposium. You beat me to it!

josephine demarchis

Why is it that whenever I receive these articles there is never a link to email them? I would love to send them to everyone in my address book online but I wouldn't even mind putting in all the email addresses manually but to date I never find spot to be able to do so. They are usually a little long for copy and paste so can you please advise to [email protected] when we can expect to see this change made. Sincerely Josephine DM

Andrew Simpson

About PHEV charging costs...

2kW for 8 hrs is 16kWh, but a PHEV running at ~0.3kWh per mile will only require 9kWh for 30 miles. At $0.12 per kWh of recharge this gives $1.08 for 30 miles.

Compare that to a vehicle getting 30mpg. Your 30 miles requires 1 gallon of fuel, which costs a heck of a lot more than a dollar! Or compare it to a hybrid (e.g. Prius) getting as much as 60mpg. Your 30 miles now requires half a gallon, but so long as gas is more expensive than $2.16 per gallon, the PHEV is still cheaper.

The point about amortizing propulsion system costs is a good one though...

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