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Plug-In Partners Anniversary Event Introduces "Cash-Back Plug-In" Concept
Jan 28, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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If you're pressed for time, skip to paragraph 8: "When Jon Wellinghoff..." (And you can comment on that at the excerpt from this post at Green Car Congress­2007/­01/­opinion_introdu.html.)

Plug-In Partners, the national PHEV support campaign led by utilities, including local governments, companies and individuals, launched with a splash a year ago. See­partners-launch.html to look back at that event, which included a video and, famously, James Woolsey's description of the "coalition between the tree-huggers, the do-gooders, the sod-busters, the cheap hawks, and the evangelicals." (We never get tired of quoting that!)

On its first anniversary, Plug-In Partners' Congressional and press briefing in Washington showed how far the campaign has come. The event was co-sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). It included eight speakers, described below. (Roger Duncan, the moving force behind Plug-in Partners, was unable to attend at the last minute because of his other responsibilities as Austin Energy General Manager.)

Quickly summarizing the presentations available online at­briefings/­2007/­Transportation/­1-23-07FFPHEV/­1-23-07notice.htm:

  • Austin Mayor Wynn lists the participating cities and breaks down the composition of soft fleet orders received.
  • Southern California Edison's Ed Kjaer summarizes the situation with auto-makers and shows his utility's vision of a world of vehicles interconnected with the power grid.
  • General Electric's Tim Dummer shows GE independently confirming what long-time advocates have been saying about PHEVs' petroleum reduction and greenhouse gas emissions benefits.

IF YOU LOOK AT ONE SINGLE PRESENTATION, we encourage you to view, download and print, and point others to the four slides­briefings/­2007/­Transportation/­1-23-07FFPHEV/­1-23-07notice.htm by Jon Wellinghoff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, about aspects of what's often described as "Vehicle-to-Grid" (V2G).

Think you've heard all there is about the benefits of plug-in hybrids? Sure, substituting "cleaner/cheaper/domestic" electricity for gasoline that has none of those characteristics is good enough reason to evolve cars. It turns out much more becomes possible when millions of PHEVs and electric vehicles, parked over 20 hours a day, are available as distributed energy storage for the electric power grid. A quick description and old links are found at the FAQ,­faq.html#1.

CalCars has soft-pedalled the potential of all the variants of V2G. It's seemed too futuristic to talk about without sounding like a snake-oil salesman. And it's not one thing: it's about perhaps a dozen different services or relationships. But experts are starting to get excited about these opportunities. Remember when we used "personal" computers? Wasn't it a surprise when the home and business computers of the '80s in the mid '90s evolved into a global network that has profoundly changed the world?

V2G and variants like V2H (emergency home backup) could some day overshadow the initial PHEV benefits on which we now focus. It's still far away. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't motivate our decisions now -- both to begin real-world demonstration programs and to provide more reasons for car-makers to move rapidly from "interest" in PHEVs­carmakers.html to demonstration fleets.

In October we highlighted two reports about V2G and its reverse, G2V­calcars-news/­539.html, showing parked PHEVs' potential to store wind power in Sacramento and to offer Bay Area Rapid Transit commuters free parking and charging. And this month the Pacific National Lab's eye-opening report­calcars-news/­657.html dispelled capacity concerns by showing that if overnight all our cars became PHEVs, we could fuel 84% of them off-peak on today's grid without adding more generators.

Now a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission weighs in. Wikipedia explains FERC as "the United States federal agency with jurisdiction over interstate electricity sales, wholesale electric rates, hydroelectric licensing, natural gas pricing, and oil pipeline rates. FERC also reviews and authorizes liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, interstate natural gas pipelines and non-federal hydropower projects." FERC has clout.

When Jon Wellinghoff, a former Nevada utility lawyer who is one of five FERC Commissioners, looks at the future potential for PHEVs, everyone starts to take notice. Wellinghoff's opening graphic of a green dollar sign on a road is powerful. Even more compelling is what he calls PHEVs: "The Cash-Back Plug-In Car." He shows annual fuel costs: $1,200 for a conventional car, $720 for a hybrid, $495 for a PHEV. Next come the important new numbers. After paying for fuel, CAR OWNERS GET $425 NET ANNUAL PAYMENTS for a Cash-Back Plug-In Car that provides "spinning reserves" to utilities (relieving them of having to maintain plants ready to kick in for unexpected demand). And CAR OWNERS NET $2,790 by providing both spinning reserves and "regulation services" (helping utilities maintain the system voltage within narrow ranges. (Not calculated are revenues for providing peak power!)

Wellinghoff also projects how rapidly a PHEV could pay back its additional costs. Calculations are based on additional costs of $19,000 for a PHEV or $20,000 cost for a V2G-capable PHEV -- probably several times higher than mass-production costs. But even saddled by such conservative assumptions, the $2,790 number gives a five-year payback (see slide two for Wellinghoff's sources).

FINE PRINT: Lest we sound overly enthusiastic, some of these applications may require relatively small fleets. For instance, regulation services for the entire State of California might require only 20,000 cars. Some may be most appropriate at big parking lots with heavy-duty electrical connections. Some, like peak power, may affect battery life because they deeply discharge batteries, while others, like spinning reserves, may take minimally stress the batteries (spinning reserves). None have yet been tested in real-world applications.

All present fertile immediate opportunities for groups like the US Department of Energy, the California Energy Commission and power companies to begin demonstration projects. And with state and federal government, utilities and industry all now saying, "wake up," we hope auto-makers start paying attention to interconnection opportunities -- on top of the urgent greenhouse gas and independence benefits -- already driving the electrification of transportation.

If they don't, someday the strategy of holding out for years for somewhat better batteries for PHEVs could go down in history as the least practical idea and the worst mistake the auto industry ever made.

(You can comment on the "Cash-Back Plug-In" concept at Green Car Congress­2007/­01/­opinion_introdu.html.)

The following event summary is based on the report by Daryl Slusher of Plug-In Partners and the presentations available on the website.

Plug-In Partners marks one year with Washington event

The Plug-In Partners campaign marked its first anniversary on January 23 with a Congressional and press briefing in Washington D.C. - where the campaign was launched last January. The event was co-sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). Speakers reflected the wide ranging and bipartisan support for the manufacture of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs).

Plug-In Partners is a national campaign spearheaded by the City of Austin and its public utility Austin Energy. The purpose is to demonstrate to automakers that there is a market for plug-in hybrid vehicles and to persuade automakers to manufacture them.

Austin Mayor Wynn began the proceedings by reporting that the campaign now has 508 partners in 41 states. and has received 8,381 "soft" fleet orders from 197 entities. Wynn said that the campaign originally planned to focus on the 50 largest cities in the country, but soon grew well beyond that to a coalition built on reducing dependence on foreign oil, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, and utilizing biofuels for liquid fuel used by PHEVs. Wynn reported that members include:

  • more than half the 50 largest cities;
  • counties and local governments, state and federal agencies
  • public power utilities and investor-owned utilities
  • private companies
  • national security, environmental and civic groups, consumer and agricultural organizations;

Wynn also noted the central role of the American Public Power Association (APPA) which has recruited nearly 200 publicly-owned utilities to become Plug-In Partners. Other speakers at the event echoed the sweeping and bipartisan nature of the support for plug-in hybrids.

  • Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) reported said there is ever increasing discussion of PHEVs in Congress and, as quoted in the Austin American-Statesman said, "This is the most rapidly developing technology that can give us action this decade." Inslee announced that he introduced a comprehensive PHEV bill on Friday January 19.
  • Mayor Wynn noted that Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) of Austin was originally scheduled to attend, but had to cancel to attend a Ways and Means Committee hearing. Doggett signaled his continued strong support for the Plug-in Partners Campaign and indicated that he will introduce a plug-in hybrid tax credit bill.
  • Wynn then read a letter from Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who represents parts of San Antonio and Austin. Smith sponsored a plug-in hybrid bill which passed the House last session and the letter said he plans to reintroduce it again this session.
  • Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who also spoke at the Plug-In Partners kickoff last year, announced that he, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington and Senator Barrack Obama of Illinois are working together on a plug-in hybrid bill.
  • Following Hatch was Mike Jackson, CEO of Autonation, the nation's largest auto retailer. Jackson talked about the increasing American dependence on imported oil during the last five presidential administrations and said that the trend absolutely must be reversed. He said that, unlike all-electric cars, plug-in hybrids do not have a limited range. Jackson said that solves the main consumer reluctance about buying electric cars.
  • Jon Wellinghoff, Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), discussed the payback potential of plug-ins if they are to used to supply power to the grid.
  • Melissa Lavinson of Pacific Gas & Electric reiterated PG&E's strong support for plug-in hybrids. Last fall the company mailed a bill insert about PHEVs and Plug-In Partners to 5.2 million customers.
  • Ed Kjaer, Director of Electric Transportation for Southern California Edison, one of the foremost experts on PHEVs, used a space analogy saying that PHEVs are on the launching pad and need only some further development on the "fuel," which he pointed out is the batteries.
  • Tim Dummer of GE Industrial, a division of GE, said that GE is not a partner yet, but indicated that GE research has led to much the same conclusions as Plug-In Partners - that PHEVs can play a very significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in decreasing American dependence on foreign oil.
  • The Plug-In Partners campaign continues and can be reached at Presentations from the briefing by Wynn, Kjaer, Wellinghoff and Dummer are at­briefings/­2007/­Transportation/­1-23-07FFPHEV/­1-23-07notice.htm.

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