Monday, December 22, 2008

Going Green: Electric Cars

I've been driving a hybrid car (2005 Honda Civic Hybrid) before most people knew what the hell a hybrid car is. I bought the car new before the rise in gas prices beginning with Katrina. I spent extra to buy it, but in the long run I sure have saved money. My car is an ULEV (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle), but starting in 2008, I have to queue up just like everyone else in the Atlanta metro area to have my emissions test. Georgians are just that smart!

I know many folks are waiting on the plug-in electric cars before getting rid of their gasoline-powered vehicles. I'm rooting for them and for hydrogen cars too. I'm rooting more for a society that has such good mass transit, that we will seldom need cars. That will take time, so in the meantime, electric cars probably make sense. What you may not have considered, however, are the technical details. Ah, the details! There is the devil. Here is one of the details you may have not considered.
Californians first experimented with all-electric vehicles 10 years ago. As a young technology, the system was riddled with quirks. Among Richard Lowenthal's frustrations: He didn't know whether a charge station could connect to his Toyota Rav-4 EV until he looked at its cord. Imagine a gas-station pump suited for a Chevy but not a Honda. "There were four different [cord] standards," Lowenthal recalls. "It was a complete mess."
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To avoid the mistakes of the past, the Society of Automotive Engineers will release standards for charger cords next year that should ensure all automakers and charge stations offer compatible devices. This will by no means be a simple extension cord. The plug is getting a fresh look.
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The most noticeable difference in the new model is at the end of the cord: the prongs. The traditional three-prong plug will be replaced with a five-prong plug, so current electric vehicles will need a converter or owners will have to replace their car's socket entirely. The two additional prongs allow charging stations and vehicles to communicate with each other—a capability that common electronics now lack.
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With thousands of new electric vehicles expected on the roads in the coming decade, the conversation between car and plug is essential to avoid overwhelming the nation's electricity infrastructure. Next, a "smart-grid" standard is needed between charging stations and the country's hundreds of utility companies—not an easy feat. [Popular Mechanics]
At least we have bright minds thinking about these things and a new administration next year that is committed to green technologies. The Chevy Volt and other such cars may save the US auto industry. Now will the public buy such cars with gasoline cheaper than pre-Katrina prices? They will, if you give them a substantial tax incentive. It was one of the things that helped me decide in 2005.