RechargeIT Blog

Where Does Our Oil Come From?

Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 11:26 AM

By David Bercovich, Program Manager, Google.org

There’s a great deal of talk about the high cost of oil and the billions of dollars that the US and other oil-importing nations spend each year to buy oil. As part of the Google.org Geo Challenge Grants Program, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has created a map of US oil imports by country since 1973. By clicking on the green light to play, you can see the countries supplying oil to the U.S. (either in terms of barrels or dollar value) and how our imports have changed over the last 35 years. The thicker the line in the map, the more oil produced or imported. While this map highlights data on United States oil imports, the picture is similar for every oil-importing country in the world.


The map highlights 5 eras of oil consumption, from the oil shocks of the 1970s to the price collapse in the 1980s to recent events including Hurricane Katrina and gas approaching $5 per gallon before retreating rapidly recently. (You can see these selections by clicking on the buttons below the map on the RMI website.) One interesting time period is from 1982 to 1985, when low prices caused oil imports from the Middle East to decline to very low levels.

The map also looks at potential oil from offshore drilling and exploration of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The screenshot below illustrates the impact of off-shore drilling. With the map zoomed or ‘drilled’ 3-5 levels down and centered near Alabama (and the map pushpin that represents offshore), check out the very thin line that shows the potential peak production of 220,000 barrels per day. The lines represent estimates of production in 20-30 years, and even with this very long timeline, the amount of oil that could be generated from offshore drilling is miniscule compared to our oil needs today.


Both Google and RMI are working hard to help create a future where we are not reliant on daily imports of millions of barrels of oil that pollute our atmosphere and risk our national security.

Today, along with the Brookings Institution, RMI is hosting “The Oil Solutions Initiative ” a summit to identify solutions to break America’s dependence on oil, with Google in attendance. In 2004, RMI’s Chief Scientist, Chairman and Co-founder Amory Lovins and a team of RMI collaborators drafted Winning the Oil Endgame (PDF of the book) - a roadmap for the United States to get completely off oil by 2050.

Google.org’s RechargeIT initiative is driving toward the commercialization of plug-in vehicles that can wean the US off gasoline. In our Clean Energy 2030 Plan we show that increasing conventional automobile mileage, deploying millions of plug-in hybrids and accelerating the turnover of the fleet would reduce oil consumption by 51% by 2030. That decrease would have an even larger effect on oil imports because we produce about one-third of our oil in the US. Google and RMI have worked together on a number of projects including RMI’s “Smart Garage” Charrette, a summit to identify the barriers and breakthroughs needed to electrify the U.S. auto fleet.

While oil prices have declined rapidly over the past five months, most people expect oil prices to remain high into the near future. When asked whether or not the drop in oil prices reduces the need to act, President-Elect Barack Obama responded that we go from “shock to trance” and as a result “never make any progress.”

If you are a non-profit with a great idea like this one, please consider applying for funding to develop your project. We are currently accepting applications for the December 22, 2008 deadline.

Aptera Recognized for Innovation

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 3:48 PM


Posted by Adam Borelli, Investments Team

Popular Mechanics recognized Aptera Motors’ innovation with its Breakthrough Innovators Award. Aptera has optimized the aerodynamics of Typ-1e and Typ-1h and lightweighted the vehicles by using lightweight composite-fiber. This vehicle is so aerodynamic that its drag is less than that of the sideview mirrors of a pickup truck. All of this allows Aptera’s Typ-le and Typ-1h to realize fantastic miles per gallon equivalent and miles per gallon, respectively. According to Popular Mechanics, the drag of the Typ-1e is 0.15 and the drag of the Toyota Prius is 0.26. (According to RechargeIT’s Driving Experiment, the Toyota Prius gets 48.4 mpg.) The Aptera Typ-1e has a projected range of 120 miles on pure electricity and the Typ-1h a projected fuel economy of 300 mpg for the first 120 miles of driving.

Aptera is going to start production on its first vehicle, Typ-1e, by the end of 2008, with a retail price around $30,000. With gas price volatility, this could pay back relatively quickly. The Typ-1e and Typ-1h are three-wheel, two seat vehicles and Aptera is also planning to produce a four-passenger vehicle in the near future. Our Google.org RechargeIT team was impressed by Aptera’s technology and drive to innovate on vehicle design, materials, and manufacturing and invested $2m in their last financing round. We congratulate Aptera Motors on this award and the further recognition of Aptera’s innovation!

Google Co-Funds the Rocky Mountain Institute's Design Charrette

Monday, October 6, 2008 at 3:29 PM

Google.org is proud to announce that it will be one of two major funders, along with the Lemelson Foundation, of the Rocky Mountain Institute's Design Charrette, which will be October 8th through October 10th in Portland, OR. The design charrette is a long-planned three-day conference with the purpose of fostering collaboration and accelerating the integration of plug-in vehicles into the electricity grid. The results of the charrette will be documented and openly available to the public. The foundation of the design charrette comes from months of RMI research also funded by Google.org. In this research, RMI developed a model which enumerates the impact of different levels of plug-in vehicle and grid integration, from simply plugging a PHEV into the wall and charging at will to more advanced scenarios of smart charging and V2G. The design charrette will bring together all the key stakeholders -- grid operators, vehicle manufacturers, utilities, smart grid companies, national labs experts, researchers -- and provide a forum for discussion and for all viewpoints to be heard.

Our hope is that the design charrette will energize stakeholders and increase the focus on developing greater vehicle and grid integration, eventually leading to vehicles playing a key role in supporting incorporation of intermittent renewable energy sources to the grid. Google.org thinks that grid-connected vehicles that incorporate a real-time data communication link between the vehicle and the grid will yield environmental benefits and will add economic value to the plug-in vehicle. Look for the results of the design charrette when they become public!

Vehicle to Grid (V2G) Overview

Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 8:48 AM


Current concerns about climate change, energy security and record high oil prices have generated a lot of enthusiasm for plug-in vehicles -- both plug-in hybrids and pure battery electric vehicles. Widespread adoption of plug-in vehicles would result in significant reductions in CO2 emissions from transportation. It would also reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by replacing petroleum-sourced energy with renewable, domestically produced electricity. But the benefits of plug-in vehicles extend beyond just those well known areas. These vehicles are also enablers for new technology that could offer significant benefits to the electric grid and to plug-in vehicle owners. In particular, Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology - in the form of vehicles capable of full bi-directional power flow (true V2G) and those capable of uni-directional "smart charging" - allows these grid-connected vehicles to provide grid stability and load management services in near real time. This gives the grid operators additional grid stability headroom, allowing even adoption of renewable energy on the grid. Plug-in vehicle owners would benefit from cheaper electricity rates and could even profitably contract with their utilities to have their vehicle provide grid ancillary services such as grid frequency, regulation and spinning reserves.

So how does V2G work "under the hood"? Historically, plug-in vehicles have simply connected to the grid and charged. There was no communication or control between the vehicle and the grid, and power flowed only from the grid to the vehicle. A fully V2G-capable plug-in vehicle is equipped with a communications interface that receives signals from the grid as well as an intelligent charging system/battery management system (BMS) that allows bi-directional power flow both to and from the vehicle. When this vehicle is connected to the grid, control signals are sent from the grid operator to manage the flow of energy between the vehicle and the grid. In the simplest case, the grid might just turn the vehicle charger on and off in response to grid load. The grid could also tell the vehicle to defer charging until off-peak hours, or possibly have the vehicle charge only when the electricity rates are at their lowest. In the most complex scenario, the grid might send a constant flow of messages to the vehicle, changing the charging rate or even reversing the flow of energy to feed back to the grid depending on a variety of factors including the current grid load, the current amount of renewable generation, the state of charge of the vehicle, and real-time energy pricing.

The benefits of V2G extend past grid load management. An NREL study shows that plug-in vehicles acting as a storage resource on the grid would help the penetration of intermittent renewable energy generation resources such as solar and wind. The energy storage offered by the plug-in vehicles would help smooth the peaks and valleys of renewable energy. This is particularly beneficial in the case of wind energy, which in many geographic locations often produces the greatest amount of energy during low-demand hours, such as late in the evening or at night.

Though V2G has many benefits to offer, it is not a near-term solution. Deploying V2G will require significant investment to evolve the existing grid into the Smart Grid of the future - the existing grid simply does not have the infrastructure in place to communicate with vehicles. Additionally, the V2G services depend on a fairly large scale deployment of plug-in vehicles to be of any value to utilities and grid operators. Several promising pilot projects have demonstrated the capabilities of V2G, but no large scale implementations are in the foreseeable future. There is also significant work to do to formalize standards for how the vehicles will connect and communicate with the grid, and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has committees working specifically in these areas - J1772 for connections and J2293 for communications. Lastly, there are issues to work through concerning the impact of constant cycling of the vehicle's battery and the effect this will have on battery life.

The good news is that many of the benefits of grid-connected vehicles don't require that they be deployed with full V2G functionality right from the start. An excellent starting point is just manufacturing vehicles with industry-standard connections that can do "smart charging" directed by the grid. A PNNL study shows that even if plug-in vehicles comprised three-quarters of the American passenger car fleet, the existing grid has sufficient power generation capabilities to handle the charging needs of these vehicles if they are charged during off-peak hours -- all without requiring any new power plants. In addition, the ability to control the charge time and energy flow rate of plug-in vehicles represents value to utilities and grid operators for grid ancillary services and for the ability to dispatch load to match up with real-time renewable generation even if the vehicles are not capable of sending power back to the grid. Finally, even if the grid itself is not capable of handling bi-directional power flow from vehicles, full V2G capabilities could be deployed as part of a "smart garage" at a home or a business, sometimes referred to as V2H (vehicle to home). In this scenario, the plug-in vehicles would be treated as a power generation resource along with solar or wind power, and controlled directly by an energy management system which controls the energy load at the home or business.

Though V2G is still in its infancy and many questions remain -- Who should own the batteries in the vehicles? What communications technology should be used? How would we handle the intermittent connectivity & mobility of vehicles? -- it has a great deal of potential and will be an integral part of the next generation power grid fueled significantly by clean, renewable energy resources.

Rethinking Fueling

Monday, September 15, 2008 at 11:55 AM


Posted by Adam Borelli, RechargeIT Team

Today over 95% of our transportation fleet runs off petroleum. As many people say, "America is addicted to oil". However, many argue this might be better than the alternative of being addicted to coal if transportation were fueled by a dirty electric grid instead of petroleum. Neither is ideal; the ideal solution is to consume less energy and yet get more from the clean renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal.

In our recent post about the Driving Experiment, we discussed the significant environmental and fuel consumption benefits in mileage gained by driving our converted Prius PHEVs and Escape PHEVs over conventional vehicles and even over their hybrid counterparts. When comparing the CO2 emissions savings from the RechargeIT Prius PHEV, the PHEV generated 72.9% fewer emissions than conventional vehicles and the PHEV Ford Escape produced 59.7% fewer emissions. This is 13.8% and 21.3% fewer emissions than their Prius and Escape hybrid counterparts, respectively. It is important to note that the basis for these calculations was a California grid. While not powered by a large portion of renewables, the grid is cleaner than most grids as it is virtually coal-free. Other studies examined dirtier grids to see if plug-in hybrids would be effective agents in fighting climate change from an emissions standpoint, even with electricity produced primarily from coal. The results were a resounding yes. Plug-in hybrids, even powered from a coal grid, emit fewer greenhouse gasses than conventional vehicles. As the grids become greener, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles will still have an increasingly net positive impact.

Emissions is only one important factor in considering fueling from the grid versus fueling from the gas pump. Cost, especially today, is a very important consideration. During this same Driving Experiment, we realize significant savings per mile when driving electrified transportation. The findings were based on the average price of gasoline in California -- $4.52 -- and electricity -- $0.148 per kWh -- when the experiment was concluded.


Ford Expedition
Toyota Sienna
Toyota Corolla
Ford Escape Hybrid
Toyota Prius Hybrid
Ford Escape PHEV
Toyota Prius PHEV
Total Cost per 100 miles
$31.90
$22.27
$14.68
$14.05
$9.34
$11.26
$6.90
Total Gas Cost per 100 miles
$31.90
$22.27
$14.68
$14.50
$9.34
$9.21
$4.83
Total Electricity Cost per 100 miles
--
--
--
--
--
$2.05
$2.07

With the current climate of high and volatile gas prices, fueling from the grid is more environmentally sound and more economical. The challenge is that the up-front cost is greater for purchasing plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles. It will take time for them to pay off, but it is a sound long term economic decision.

Getting Plugged into The Big Tent at the DNC

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 4:03 PM


Posted by Alec Proudfoot, Rolf Schreiber, and Adam Borelli, RechargeIT Team

At a venue filled with energetic bloggers blogging about all aspects of the DNC from panels hosted by organizations to fundraisers for the Democratic Party and its relevant campaign entities to the speeches, Dan Reicher, Google.org's Director of Climate & Energy Initiatives, introduced this community to Google.org, its various initiatives, and its approach to the climate crisis. "We are able to play all the keys on the keyboard," said Dan Reicher, in describing Google.org's unique approach to addressing this problem. Google.org is empowered to make investments in innovative technologies, advocate for key policies, engage and educate the public through Google's traditional Google platforms like Earth, Maps, SketchUp, and others. When Dan spoke about RE less than C (renewable electricity cheaper than coal [-fired power]) he described the over all strategy and focused on our recent geothermal announcement which highlighted the approach of "playing all the keys on the keyboard". Dan also explained the RechargeIT initiative and what we have done to date, focusing on the recently released Driving Experiment that highlights the impact of driving plug-in hybrids in comparison to other vehicles.

At the end of Dan's talk he told the audience that the RechargeIT Team's Alec Proudfoot, Rolf Schreiber, and Adam Borelli would be outside The Big Tent at Google's converted Toyota Prius PHEV to demonstrate its technology, answer questions about the vehicle's performance and capabilities, and answer general questions about its performance. We were approached by about ten people with a host of questions covering technology, economics, and environmental issues.


Here are some of the questions people asked us:
  • Can I buy these vehicles yet? What are the companies that make them?
    • No major automaker is producing a plug-in vehicle yet, but both GM and Toyota have announced that they will sell plug-in vehicles by 2010. Other manufacturers such as Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Nissan and Subaru have also announced that they intend to produce plug-in vehicles.
  • How much does it cost to convert my Prius to a plug-in hybrid?
    • Hymotion (the supplier of the conversion modules in Google's Prius PHEVs) sells the conversion kit for US$9995 installed. Please see the CalCars.org website for a listing of other conversion sources.
  • Would it make economic sense to add a solar panel to the vehicle and charge the battery with the solar panels?
    • This doesn't make sense with current production PV cells since there simply is not enough surface area on the vehicle to produce enough energy to charge the battery fully for a typical driver's needs. The best option is to build a solar carport or put PV on your roof or, the most cost-effective way, to have the utilities supply the green electrons through utility scale generation. However, plug-in vehicle manufacturers such as Aptera and Fisker plan to have solar panels integrated into their vehicles to run the climate control system even when the vehicle is parked.
  • What is the electric driving range of the plug-in conversion?
    • We typically see 35-40 miles of "charge depleting" mode, where the battery pack is supplying most or all of the energy for driving the car. The Prius doesn't really allow you to drive the car in all-electric mode unless you're very conservative with the accelerator and keep the speed under 35 MPH.
  • What kind of data do you collect with the datalogging system? Where can I view the data?
    • We collect information about the vehicle's speed and location, gas consumption, engine RPM, battery state of charge, etc. While we don't display all the raw data we collect on the RechargeIT website, you can see trip-specific data for each vehicle at http://www.google.org/recharge/dashboard.
  • Do you promote using bio-fuels with plug-in hybrids?
    • Some biofuels like cellulosic ethanol are clear winners. Others like corn-based ethanol are less compelling since they require significant resource inputs for production, harvesting, and processing and yield carbon emissions when burned. We believe that one excellent combination for low carbon impact driving in the future may be a low-input energy biofuel used as the liquid fuel in a PHEV.

Website Simplifications

Friday, August 8, 2008 at 1:21 PM


Posted by Janelle Kuhlman, RechargeIT Team

We have made some improvements to our website - check it out! Although the structure of the site remains the same, there are a few changes worth highlighting. First, you'll notice that we cleaned up our home page by removing most of the modules and adding a 'Data and Analysis' link where you can find our Vehicle Calculator. We will eventually add more data about our fleet and from our driving experiment. The Plug-in Vehicle Locator map has also been relocated to the 'What we are doing' page. (You can still find our publicly-submitted YouTube videos on the map. There are some interesting videos there that you should check out when you have a minute. There is even one from a nine-year-old that is quite compelling.)
Lastly, we moved the 'Resources' and 'Collaborators' links from the home page to the 'Driving Experiment' page. We hope you like the changes; visit us soon for more news and updates.