City, County, Port To Run Year-Long Test Of PHEVs

Thirteen Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid vehicles owned by Puget Sound governments and agencies will be converted to 100 mile-per-gallon plug-in electric hybrid vehicles for a year-long field performance test, in part with a grant and technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory. Behind-the-scenes assistance from Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center for Regional Development played a key role in development of the pilot project (more below).

The project will test PHEV conversion technology and in-city PHEV performance, and will help assess prospects for integration of PHEVs with the electric grid while promoting electricity as a fuel alternative. At a press conference yesterday, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and other officials unveiled the plans. Operating converted Prius PHEVs for field testing will be the City of Seattle, King County, the Port of Seattle, and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. In a news advisory, Nickels stated:

This demonstration project will accelerate the commercial introduction of these vehicles and prepare our utility for the day when many of us are plugging into the grid instead of filling up at the pump.

The DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory will oversee field performance and life testing of the PHEVs, which go the Prius one better with a longer-range battery that can be charged at a regular electrical socket, at a cost equal to less than one dollar per gallon of gas. A leading manufacturer of high-powered lithium ion batteries, A123 Systems of Watertown, Mass., will supply the conversion kits. Conversions will cost $12,000 apiece, including installation of special equipment that will automatically collect field performance data from the PHEVs. Onboard data collection will include operational parameters that identify how the vehicle is operated, fuel use, and charging patterns and energy demands. Some of the information provided will include vehicle speed profiles, miles driven per trip and per charge, and charging times and durations.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee stated:

Plug-in hybrids are on the cusp of commercialization. Automakers say they will build them if battery costs drop. But batterymakers need volume orders to reduce costs. This project and others like it will help speed the process of making plug-in hybrid vehicles available to Americans in each and every state by breaking this logjam.

Inslee authored portions of the House-passed energy package that would create a $4,000 tax credit for consumers who buy PHEVs, a national plug-in hybrid pilot program, and grants for nonprofits and state and local governments to promote the vehicles.

Michael Hagood, INL’s Energy Systems Business Manager, hailed Cascadia Center’s role in facilitating development of the Puget Sound PHEV pilot program. He noted:

In October of 2006, Cascadia participated in a tour of the Idaho National Laboratory organized through the Pacific Northwest Economic Region organization, where they learned of INL’s advanced testing role. As a result, Cascadia initiated a dialog with INL staff relative to the introduction of PHEVs in the Northwest and introduced INL to key stakeholders in the Seattle area, including those now involved in the Seattle area testing program. These relationships were further developed through Cascadia’s “Jump Start To A Secure, Clean Energy Future” conference last May, co-sponsored by Microsoft, where INL participated, providing presentations. The establishment of the PHEV testing program in the Seattle area would not have come to fruition without the help of Cascadia, in particular Steve Marshall and Bruce Agnew.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION & PHOTOS: Web article coverage from KING-5 TV of yesterday’s news event here; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s “Dateline Earth” environmental blog, here. A picture of one of the cars to be converted is here, and Mayor Nickels with A123 Vice-President of Pack and Systems, Bud Collins, here.

WALL STREET JOURNAL ARTICLE & VIDEO: Global interest in plug-in hybrid electric and all-electric vehicles continues to run high. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, “Hybrid Or All-Electric? Car Makers Take Sides.” In this WSJ video, electric car entrepreneur Martin Eberhard, co-founder of Tesla Motors, explains his company’s strategy of entering the market at the high end, and aiming to gradually develop lower-cost models.

“MEDIA SPIKE” CLIMATE CHANGE FORUM INIVITATION: Seattle area residents will have a chance to participate in a blue-ribbon panel forum in Seattle October 31 on future possibilities for interplay between media, policymakers and the larger community, around climate change. Click here to view the invitation to “Media Spike.” RSVP required.

Cascadia Center

Founded in 1993, as the Cascadia Project, Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center for Regional Development is an important force in regional transportation and sustainable development issues. Cascadia is known for its involvement in transportation and development issues in the Cascadia Corridor, Puget Sound and in the U.S.-Canadian cross-border realm. We’ve recently added to that mix through a major program to promote U.S. efforts to reduce reliance on foreign oil, including the earliest possible development and integration of flex-fuel, plug-in, hybrid-electric vehicles.