RechargeIT Blog

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.