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Hybrid plug-in may energize future of power

Green living has a way of creating solutions, often from diverse and seemingly unrelated problems. One of the best examples has the potential to profoundly improve our economy, revitalize the automotive industry, enhance our national electrical grid and be a catalyst for the large-scale development of renewable energy. It also could reduce pollution, slash our need for foreign oil and lower greenhouse gas emissions, thereby contributing to the climate change solution. Oh, and by the way, it could also cut the cost of filling up your car by more than half.

I’m referring to V2G or Vehicle-to-Grid technology. It is a concept whereby electric or hybrid (gas/electric) cars can not only take a charge from the electrical grid, but send energy back as well. It’s actually more than a concept at this point, since many stock vehicles, mostly Toyota Prius hybrids, have been upgraded with larger battery capacity and plug-in capability. These cars are currently being tested in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.

Once you have a V2G-capable car in the garage, here’s how it will work. When you pull in and turn off the car, you plug it in to a standard electrical wall socket so it can recharge, usually during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lowest. The next day, you simply unplug the car and drive, an average of about 30 miles per day for most Americans.

If you travel mostly around town, your vehicle could conceivably run almost entirely on the electric motor. If you need more power, higher speeds or go on a longer trip, your plug-in hybrid’s computer will simply fire up the gasoline engine whenever it’s needed.

Depending on your driving habits, you may only need to refill your car with gas once a month and perhaps even less. Since the equivalent cost per mile for electricity is much less than gasoline, average fuel costs are dramatically reduced. Sound good? Well, it gets even better.

Suppose it’s a hot summer afternoon. Your car is connected and charged and the utility needs peak power. This type of energy is very expensive to generate and is often needed on short notice. Your V2G car could sell electricity back to the power company at a moment’s notice, perhaps even at a profit. It might be a small one, but it would help offset the cost of the vehicle. With thousands of vehicles providing readily available peak power to the utility, the entire electrical grid would be improved, the utility company could reduce operating costs and avoid the burning of additional fossil fuels.

With the wide-scale adoption of V2G technology, we get a convenient form of distributed electrical energy storage that can absorb excess renewable energy from variable sources like the sun or wind, allowing these systems to provide more usable, consistent power over longer periods.

Thus, we greatly reduce our need for foreign oil, lower our fuel costs, clean the air, enhance the grid, use more renewable energy and provide tremendous economic opportunities. As we reduce our consumption of oil, prices may even go down since the supply of this precious nonrenewable resource may again exceed demand.

It is not yet possible to purchase a plug-in hybrid but it is getting closer. Some companies are beginning to offer conversions for existing hybrids like the Prius. Right now they are expensive, but the price will come down over time. Several car manufacturers are looking to bring plug-in hybrids to market in the next few years. The race is on toward a major transformation in the vehicle industry.

If you are interested in this topic, you can check out the Alternative Fuels & Vehicles National Conference & Expo. It will be held in Las Vegas May 11-14 at the Rio. The conference will feature exhibits and discussions on many alternative fuel topics, including plug-ins and V2G technology. The city of Las Vegas has one of the largest alternative-vehicle fleets in the U.S. and its fleet management center will be one of the technical tours available through the conference.

Although there is a fee to register for the conference, there is a special event that is free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Springs Preserve, the expo will be open for “Public Day” from 9 a.m.-noon on Wednesday, May 14, at the Rio Pavilion.

There will be community experts offering brief presentations on alternative-fuel vehicles, sustainable homes and buildings and making good choices to lessen harmful environmental impacts in the valley.

Gas prices are high and going higher as a result of its nonrenewable nature and our massive appetite for energy. V2G smart-vehicle technology and its integration with our electrical grid will provide at least part of the solution to many major issues, improving our lives, our environment and our economy. Green living works.

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, specializing in renewable energy, green building, alternative transportation and lifestyle choices for both residential and commercial clients. The company is committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. Rypka can be reached via e-mail at steve@greendream.biz. More information relating to this column is posted at www.greendream.biz.

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