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Crazy Green Energy Idea: Plug-in Hybrid Cars to Power City (Someday)

Posted on March 29, 2007

Chevy VoltIn an update to the ongoing Crazy Green Energy Idea saga I have some very interesting news from the city of Austin, TX courtesy of the TerraPass blog. The mayor’s office in Austin has put forth a proposal to use a fleet of plug-in hybrid vehicles as a/the power source for the city during daytime hours. Yes, you read right, the cars will power the city itself. The idea is definitely what I would call progressive (some people would say crazy) but it might just be crazy enough to work.

The basic idea is this: Drivers simply let their cars sit in parking lots most of the day and drivers of plug-in hybrids (for more on plug-ins and plug-in hybrids see this post) do the same. However, the plug-in hybrids will have generated and stored energy through breaking and other methods during the commute which means they have energy that can be harvested and sold back to power companies which can be then used to power the city.

The mayor’s office in Austin thinks that they can harness enough energy from these vehicles to someday power the city throughout the day. That’s a great idea and what’s even better about the Mayor’s plan is that the drivers of the cars will be paid for the amount of energy they give back. That will be a payment processing struggle no doubt but it is a necessary part of plan (people are motivated by green - green money that is).

Follow-up: After discussing this with my bud John Zeratsky I’m not too sure if this is a great idea.   Seems like running cars on some electricity and some gas and then using the electric energy they generate during the commute to power the city just so that people have to plug the cars back in at night doesn’t help anything.  It simply transfers the power from the home to the office/city rather than leaving it in the cars to save gas/CO2 output.  As John said - It’s like plugging your house into the city power grid.  Hmmmm  Looks like we’re back to the drawing board although it’s definitely a possibility that I could have missed something.

As a side note to this story I was made aware that GM has a survey up regarding its plug-in hybrid concept called the Volt. It’s a great looking car and will fall under the Chevy brand. The survey is only two questions and it could help the Volt become a production vehicle which would be a very good thing (not only is it a plug-in hybrid - it’s also a good looking car) so I urge all of you to fill it out.

Side Bar: If that wasn’t enough cool energy stuff for the day I saw a device in Wired created by the Ambient Devices folks (the same guys who brought you the Ambient Orb and other super cool wireless info-gadgets). The device is called the Home Joule and it alerts you, through ambient light, to increases in your power cost and consumption in the hopes that you’ll react to the signals and turn some things off if the device hits the red mark. If you do respond to the alerts to consume less power then you can become eligible for rewards like free movie tickets (its a win win!). The Home Joule is available in NYC now and other cities to come. If you’d like one make sure to request it here even if you aren’t in NYC.

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10 Comments so far
  1. David March 30, 2007 5:56 am

    I’d almost rather see cities buy EVs like the Volt and install solar panels over their parking spaces to recharge them during the day.

    I recently read an article where Chevron is setting installing solar panels at Fresno State (http://www.fresnostatenews.com/2007/03/solarpower.htm) to help offset the school’s energy needs. They go on to say this could generate enough power for 1000 homes.

    That story (sort-of) implys that solar panels installed over one parking space, under the right solar conditions, could power one home. Heck, I have two spaces in front of my house.

  2. John Zeratsky April 2, 2007 9:27 am

    I don’t get it… Is the idea that plug-in hybrids are able to generate power more efficiently than power plants? That seems insane.

  3. Gary H April 2, 2007 10:45 pm

    David,

    Have you watched “Future Car”? I think it’s on the discovery Channel. Anyhow, this idea could work if certain things happen; 1) we in fact do develop hydrogen power, 2) Hybrids include solar panel technology to change their batteries or 3) we develop the an alternate energy source via oxygen (via Future Car idea.)

    If any of those three things happen then Houston’s idea isn’t so stupid after all. I do agree that with the current state of technology the idea is pointless as your buddy stated.

    Regarding the comments, I think it’s just a matter of time before solar technology catches on… If only the weren’t so obtrusive and ugly.

  4. Joe April 5, 2007 12:03 pm

    Eric,

    As a person who works in the energy field, I thought I’d respond to your follow-up on the plug in car idea. In a nutshell: The benefit from using the cars as a battery is the time shifting that occurs. You charge the car at night and the release the energy during the day back onto the grid. By doing so, you put energy back onto the grid when demand is high (daytime) and you increse demand for energy when demand is typically low (nighttime). Such “demand shifting” has enormous benefits for how the grid is operated because the grid has to be scaled to provide the maximum level of energy needed during “peak”. Peak only occurs for a few hours a year. If you can shave the peak (by using the cars during the daytime) you save HUGE amounts of money in how you design the overall grid and how you run your powerplants and if you can shift the demand to nighttime when energy is cheapest - you save money there too.

  5. Eric Olson April 5, 2007 2:16 pm

    Thanks for the comment Joe! That makes a lot of sense. I had forgotten about the time shifting aspect.

  6. Stomper June 26, 2007 5:33 am

    Why not? Hybrid taxi cabs in Chicago are not extraordinary anymore.

  7. Christopher Phillips November 7, 2007 8:16 pm

    Very interesting article.
    The various ideas on hybrid cars have been around since the late 1800’s so it’s about time that we saw some real progress in this field.
    For any hybrid enthusiasts that would like further reading have a look at these links as well….

    More Information on hybrid cars

    Another article about hybrid cars

    http://www.cothivalebooks.com

  8. action jackson December 27, 2007 6:44 pm

    Hybrids are the way to go! they’re expensive but so worthy now a days.

  9. car fanatic March 10, 2008 2:05 pm

    everywhere, i see hybrid cars.this is the future :)

  10. Dave March 11, 2008 3:24 am

    Driving around powering a city this sounds very futuristic., but when you think about it I suppose it really could work?

    Thanks
    Dave