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Washington State Leaps Ahead in PHEV Awareness
May 11, 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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We finally have a minute to say that the May 7th CascadiaMicrosoft Conference on Transportation, Technology, and Energy. "Jump Start to a Secure, Clean Energy Future," marked the emergence of a broad coalition in the Pacific Northwest. Over 300 people from corporations, many levels of government and a great diversity of organizations are realizing how fundamental a transformation they could accomplish -- especially with their hydropower resources. At the center are plug-in hybrid cars and vehicle-to-grid strategies.

Here's the link for Cascadia:­cascadia and the link for the conference:­scripts/­viewDB/­index.php?command=view&id=270&program=Cascadia&isEvent=true. The organizers have uploaded PDF versions of all the presentations from the day-long event. We'll have more to say as soon as we can in particular about the presentations by John Wellinghoff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Bill Reinert of Toyota, and Nick Zielinski of GM....

The conference ended up on the upper left of the front page of the Tuesday Seattle Times, and was well reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligence as well. Both stories are below. And Cascadia's blog­2007/­05/­plugins.php has links to broadcast stories and other reports.

Fans of plug-in cars build their power base By Hal Bernton and Mike Lindblom, Seattle Times staff reporters Tuesday, May 8, 2007­html/­localnews/­2003697756_plugin08m.html

Sometime in the future, your car may make your round-trip commute with electricity generated from rooftop solar cells.

When you want to venture east of the Cascades for a weekend winery tour, an internal-combustion engine - powered by biofuels - would kick into action.

This vision has helped propel plug-in hybrid cars from a footnote in automotive technology into a serious alternative that car manufacturers are working to bring to market within the next five to 10 years.

Meanwhile, a grass-roots network of plug-in converts - professors, students, garage mechanics and others - is already fashioning the first generation of these vehicles in hopes of prodding the industry into faster action. They say these cars can get more than 100 miles per gallon for some travel.

"We have proved that we can make good-enough plug-in hybrids now, and don't have to develop a whole new vehicle," said Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative, which converts standard Toyota Prius hybrids to operate as plug-in cars.

Kramer spoke at a Monday conference that drew more than 300 people - including automotive-industry representatives, federal and state officials - to the Microsoft campus in Redmond. The conference was sponsored by the Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank.

Auto-industry officials maintain there are still significant obstacles to mass-producing these vehicles. And electric energy may not be renewable. It often comes from coal-fired and gas-fired power plants that still rely on fossil fuels.

But interest in this technology has intensified as gas prices climb to record highs and concerns about global warming increase.

Some local governments are planning to purchase fleets of plug-in hybrids that could stimulate the markets and further refine the technology.

"We're committed to plug-in hybrids," said King County Executive Ron Sims. advertising

There is hope that the Northwest - with Microsoft and other high-tech companies providing plenty of brain power - could emerge as a hub of innovation to spur development of plug-ins.

The cars, for example, could be equipped with metered smart chips that could allow the batteries to sell back small amounts of electricity to the grid. Motorists might be able to earn several thousand dollars a year and also help stabilize the regional power system.

The plug-ins attempt to build on the success of the current generation of hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius. In the first four months of this year, the Prius surpassed the Camry to emerge as the top-selling Toyota in the Northwest, according to Buzz Rodland, of Rodland Toyota in Everett.

"This is an astounding achievement," Rodland said.

The Prius has a small electric battery that, working on its own, can power the vehicle for only a couple of miles. The Prius has no plug-in battery, so the battery maintains its charge with the aid of the car's gasoline-powered internal-combustion engine. Some see the plug-ins as an end unto themselves, while others see a step on the way to all-electric vehicles, some of which were on display Monday.

Auto-industry officials say one of the biggest obstacles to plug-in hybrids is the further development of long-lasting, lightweight lithium batteries at an affordable price.

"My challenge right now is that I have to get a battery pack, and I am working my butt off to ensure that we do have a battery pack," said Nick Zielinski, an engineer for General Motors. GM is developing a plug-in Saturn and an ambitious new vehicle known as the Chevy Volt, which could run on electricity or biofuels.

Zielinski hopes the vehicles could be available within the next five to 10 years.

Others say current technology is sufficient to launch plug-in technology. University of California students have worked with their professors to build prototypes. And a small cottage industry has emerged to convert, with the aid of additional battery packs, a standard Prius into plug-in vehicles that can get substantially better gas mileage.

The conversions, however, void the Toyota warranty for the vehicles.

"The official me says you shouldn't be doing this," said Bill Reinert, a Toyota engineer. "The unofficial me says these guys are cool, but the official me has to win out."

A study released earlier this year by the Richland-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory said that if the current U.S. car, pickup and sport-utility vehicle fleet was converted to plug-in technology, the electrical system could power most of these cars for 33 miles per day. The plants would have to run more intensively, generally using more fossil fuels.

The study found the conversion would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, in some regions by as much as 40 percent. But the increased use of coal to generate electricity would cause substantial increases in a significant pollutant - sulfur oxides - in the areas around the power plants.

Some imagine a future where panels of photovoltaic solar cells sprout on top of homes and office buildings to provide new sources of clean power for plug-in hybrids or all-electric cars.

"Today's sun will give you tomorrow's driving," predicted Andrew Frank, a University of California at Davis professor.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@...

Visions of a Northwest hybrid car future abound
Tuesday, May 8, 2007­local/­314740_hybrid08.html

Imagine at first hundreds of Northwesterners -- but later thousands, and ultimately tens of thousands or even millions -- plugging in their electric hybrid cars every night. Then they all commute the next day without dipping into their fuel tanks.

Imagine that the other cars on the road, still using fuel systems more like today's, get around on the byproducts of cow poop or wheat stubble.

CAPTION (PLUG ON CAR) This could be a common sight on area roads in the future if hybrid gas-electric vehicles take off.

Imagine further that this new fleet of cars carries devices to signal the traffic-light system, reducing congestion by half at rush hour. And imagine these same devices prevent cars from running into one another no matter what their idiot drivers do. The same devices could offer drivers a choice between the fastest route, the cheapest route (because many roads will have tolls) and the "greenest" route.

These were some of the visions that emerged Monday at a broad-ranging conference of Seattle-area businesspeople, utility executives, public officials, environmentalists and others titled "Jump Start to a Secure, Clean Energy Future" at Microsoft Corp.'s Redmond campus.

State Transportation Secretary Doug McDonald said questions about how to start a Northwest pilot project on plug-in electric hybrids are flying fast as the technologies are emerging.

"Just exactly where is the project going to happen? Just exactly when is it going to start? Just exactly what is it going to be about?" McDonald asked participants. "We don't exactly have all those answers just exactly yet."

CAPTION: Frank Ziegler, hybrid technologies director of sales and distribution, demonstrates his company's all-electric motorcycle. He says it will travel up to 85 mph and travel 75 miles before needing a four-hour recharge. The bike was developed in Mooresville, N.C.

That hasn't stopped many entrepreneurs from launching into efforts to move the technology along, get it to market -- and make some money.

But one roadblock for the Northwest is that lack here of an efficient market for buying and selling power, such as the ones in Texas and California, said David Kaplan, president and chief executive officer of V2Green.

His Seattle software and electronics company is working on moving power from the electric grid to plug-in hybrids -- and back again, allowing owners of the cars to earn cash for the power their cars create.

"Can we launch a Northwest pilot demonstration project this year?" Kaplan wondered aloud. "The basic technologies are all developed and pretty well understood. However, what has to happen is all these technologies have to be pulled together."

Technology companies, electric grid operators, utilities and regulators all have to communicate, Kaplan said -- which was exactly the goal of the sponsor of the conference, the Cascadia Center, a project of the Seattle think tank Discovery Institute.

"The key is uniting them and getting them talking to each other," said Bruce Agnew, the center's policy director. "In the end, you could be completely petroleum-free, which is our goal."

P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or robertmcclure@....

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