Spare Power Sufficient 2 Fuel Switch from Gas 2 Electric Car

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Spare Power Sufficient 2 Fuel Switch from Gas 2 Electric Car

Post#1 » Sat Dec 16, 2006 8:00 pm

December 13, 2006
Spare Power Sufficient to Fuel Switch from Gas to Electric Cars
Existing U.S. power plants could provide enough juice to switch 84 percent of the 220 million American vehicles on the road from gasoline to electricity. ... ECAAA68E5F

Science Image: plug-in hybrid
PLUG-IN POWER: Plug-in hybrids, which rely more heavily on electric power than conventional hybrids, could easily be fueled by the existing U.S. power infrastructure, paving the way for lower emissions and weaning Americans from oil.
Rumors of the electric car's demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated, with so-called plug-in hybrids making the rounds from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., along with the sporty, new all-electric Tesla Roadster on offer. Now a new analysis from the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) offers more good news: existing electric power plants could fuel 84 percent of "light duty" vehicles if all 220 million cars and trucks converted to electric power overnight. "We're delighted to see solid third-party confirmation of what the people who know best--the utilities--have been saying for sometime," says Felix Kramer, plug-in hybrid owner/evangelist and founder of

The analysis noted that the capacity of the U.S. power infrastructure is underutilized. Every evening--and during days of low demand--there is a large amount of spare capacity that could easily be tapped. By charging cars and trucks with electricity at night, American drivers could reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil while potentially cutting power prices as well. "Since gasoline consumption accounts for 73 percent of imported oil, it is intriguing to think of the trade and national security benefits if our vehicles switched from oil to electrons," notes PNNL energy researcher Rob Pratt. "Plus, since the utilities would be selling more electricity without having to build more plants or power lines, electricity prices could go down for everyone."

The researchers specifically excluded power resources such as nuclear, hydroelectric, wind and solar as each of these already produce electricity at maximum capacity. Yet, plugging in our cars could reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 18 percent. "Coal plants and gas plants are the marginal units that we considered for charging the plug-in hybrid batteries," says PNNL staff scientist Michael Kintner-Meyer, lead author of the forthcoming report. "Wherever you have a high dominance of natural gas, that is where you improve on the total greenhouse gas emissions."

Such a switch would have other pollution benefits as well, including radically reducing the amount of asthma-inducing particulate matter in the air of urban areas. Basically, the source of pollution is transferred: "It is far less expensive to capture emissions at the smokestack than the tailpipe," Pratt adds. And the report estimates that purchasing a plug-in hybrid--a premium of as much as $10,000--would pay for itself within five to eight years, depending on regional electricity prices.

"Nobody ever asks what's the payback on a sunroof," Calcar's Kramer notes. "People are buying the environmental feature, just like people buy leather seats or sunroofs." But consumers are not likely to get that option on a large scale in the immediate future. "They're still not being made and there's no immediate prospect of them being made," he adds. "Batteries are good enough now to put in cars and they're going to be even better by the time we're in production." Already, initial vehicles--and their outdated nickel batteries--have proven durable beyond 100,000 miles.

Kintner-Meyer predicts a total changeover could take as long as 25 years. In the meantime, technological improvements in things like batteries will likely make the case for such a transition even more persuasive. But the improvements are not only needed on the automotive side; such a switch would probably require smart chargers that would sense the appropriate times to refill the car's electric tank. And the grid would need improvement, too: "Some of the equipment is designed to cool down at night. If you are basically running at maximum capacity for the entire infrastructure, then you are burning the system," Kintner-Meyer says. "There needs to be some smartness in the charger of those plug-in hybrids that will sense emergencies in the grid and briefly interrupt the charging." Not to mention some smartness in deciding to go back to the future (electric cars outsold competitors at the turn of the last century) in short order. --David Biello

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Hybrid Vehicles Gain Traction

Post#2 » Sat Dec 16, 2006 8:02 pm

April 2006 issue

Hybrid Vehicles Gain Traction
As car buyers turn to fuel-sipping gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, a new generation of greener hybrids is just coming over the horizon
By Joseph J. Romm and Andrew A. Frank ... 414B7FFE9F

When gasoline prices climbed to $3 a gallon last summer, hybrid vehicles--which combine a conventional engine and a battery-powered electric motor to achieve improved fuel economy and performance--began racing out of showrooms. Whereas the average U.S. car goes about 23 miles on a gallon of gas, a full-fledged hybrid car such as a Toyota Prius travels about twice as far on the same amount, depending on how it is driven. Annual U.S. sales of hybrids from 2004 to 2005 doubled to 200,000 and are expected to swell to more than half a million by 2010. By 2020 most new car models ought to offer a hybrid power-train option.

By then, next-generation technology, called plug-in hybrids, will offer motorists still better fuel efficiency as well as other perks: low-cost battery recharging overnight by simply connecting a 120-volt plug to an electrical outlet at home or work, very few trips to the gas station each year, and even the chance to sell surplus power back to the electric grid. Beyond the consumer benefits, the new plug-ins would help reduce the release of greenhouse gases by displacing emissions from millions of tailpipes to utility power plants. Today these facilities burn domestically supplied coal or natural gas, and in the future they should generate cleaner electricity from energy sources such as wind, solar or even advanced fossil fuel-based systems that capture carbon dioxide for underground storage....continued at Scientific American Digital

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A Power Grid for the Hydrogen Economy

Post#3 » Sat Dec 16, 2006 8:05 pm

Magazine Content
July 2006 issue

A Power Grid for the Hydrogen Economy
Cryogenic, superconducting conduits could be connected into a "SuperGrid" that would simultaneously deliver electrical power and hydrogen fuel
By Paul M. Grant, Chauncey Starr and Thomas J. Overbye ... 414B7F0000

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Image no longer available. The full versions of this and other articles from the print edition--including all graphics and sidebars--are available for purchase at Scientific American Digital.

On the afternoon of August 14, 2003, electricity failed to arrive in New York City, plunging the eight million inhabitants of the Big Apple--along with 40 million other people throughout the northeastern U.S. and Ontario--into a tense night of darkness. After one power plant in Ohio had shut down, elevated power loads overheated high-voltage lines, which sagged into trees and short-circuited. Like toppling dominoes, the failures cascaded through the electrical grid, knocking 265 power plants offline and darkening 24,000 square kilometers.

That incident--and an even more extensive blackout that affected 56 million people in Italy and Switzerland a month later--called attention to pervasive problems with modern civilization's vital equivalent of a biological circulatory system, its interconnected electrical networks. In North America the electrical grid has evolved in piecemeal fashion over the past 100 years. Today the more than $1-trillion infrastructure spans the continent with millions of kilometers of wire operating at up to 765,000 volts. Despite its importance, no single organization has control over the operation, maintenance or protection of the grid; the same is true in Europe. Dozens of utilities must cooperate even as they compete to generate and deliver, every second, exactly as much power as customers demand--and no more. The 2003 blackouts raised calls for greater government oversight and spurred the industry to move more quickly, through its Intelli-Grid Consortium and the Grid-Wise program of the U.S. Department of Energy, to create self-healing systems for the grid that may prevent some kinds of outages from cascading. But reliability is not the only challenge--and arguably not even the most important challenge--that the grid faces in the decades ahead.
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A more fundamental limitation of the 20th-century grid is that it is poorly suited to handle two 21st-century trends: the relentless growth in demand for electrical energy and the coming transition from fossil-fueled power stations and vehicles to cleaner sources of electricity and transportation fuels. Utilities cannot simply pump more power through existing high-voltage lines by ramping up the voltages and currents. At about one million volts, the electric fields tear insulation off the wires, causing arcs and short circuits. And higher currents will heat the lines, which could then sag dangerously close to trees and structures.


· A Continental SuperGrid ... 414B7F015F

A hydrogen-filled SuperGrid would serve not only as a conduit but also as a vast repository of energy.

It is not at all clear, moreover, how well today's infrastructure could support the rapid adoption of hybrid vehicles that draw on electricity or hydrogen for part of their power. And because the power system must continuously match electricity consumption with generation, it cannot easily accept a large increase in the unpredictable and intermittent power produced from renewable wind, ocean and solar resources.

We are part of a growing group of engineers and physicists who have begun developing designs for a new energy delivery system we call the Continental SuperGrid. We envision the SuperGrid evolving gradually alongside the current grid, strengthening its capacity and reliability. Over the course of decades, the SuperGrid would put in place the means to generate and deliver not only plentiful, reliable, inexpensive and "clean" electricity but also hydrogen for energy storage and personal transportation.

Engineering studies of the design have concluded that no further fundamental scientific discoveries are needed to realize this vision. Existing nuclear, hydrogen and superconducting technologies, supplemented by selected renewable energy, provide all the technical ingredients required to create a SuperGrid. Mustering the social and national resolve to create it may be a challenge, as will be some of the engineering. But the benefits would be considerable, too.

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