Next Generation Plug-in Hybrid Car Tested in Florida

GAINESVILLE, Florida, December 15, 2008 (ENS) - The gas price roller coaster and climate change concerns are making plug-in hybrid-electric cars look increasingly attractive to many people. Now, a new University of Florida partnership is testing to determine if they are in fact a cleaner, cheaper and more reliable choice than other cars.

Pierce Jones, a researcher with the university's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is working with North Carolina companies Progress Energy, Advanced Energy and Duke Energy to test a Toyota Prius modified to use electricity delivered through a regular household electrical outlet.

"This isn't a new idea, but it is one that now has to be closely examined because it's likely to be a reality in just a few years," said Jones, who is participating in the research as part of UF's Program for Resource Efficient Communities.

"There are a lot of questions to be asked and a lot of details that have to be ironed out beforehand," he said.

The UF car is one of 12 plug-in hybrids that will be deployed throughout Florida and North Carolina. The researchers will chart basic use patterns, such as how much gasoline and electricity are consumed per mile traveled. Jones says similar vehicles can travel more than 100 miles on a gallon of gas.

Jones is helping to test the vehicle's efficiency, which may someday keep widespread use of electric cars from overburdening local electrical grids. For years, one concern about electric cars is that too many of them plugged in at the same time could cause power failures.

"Developing the necessary infrastructure to enable widespread use of electric vehicles is part of our balanced strategy to address the challenge of global climate change, while meeting growing energy needs," said Bill Johnson, CEO of Progress Energy. Headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, Progress is a Fortune 250 energy company serving 3.1 million customers in the Carolinas and Florida.

The test hybrid car is equipped with new smart-charging hardware that moderates the time and pacing of the charging.

Additionally, Jones' test car will be using a technology dubbed Vehicle-to-Grid, or V2G, functionality.

V2G allows the car's charging system to synch with the local electrical grid. Not only does this stop the car from drawing on an overtaxed grid, it could contribute small amounts of electricity back in, helping the entire electrical grid become more reliable and earning a few dollars for the car's owner.

The plug-in hybrid test project also will document drivers' patterns, to help determine how charging stations and billing should be implemented.

"It used to be that electric vehicles were rare, but I think they're going to be here before we know it," Jones said. "That means that we've got to figure out the tricky details of how they're really going to work so we can make the best use of this new technology."

{Photo: Researcher Pierce Jones demonstrates how to charge the experimental plug-in hybrid electric car at the University of Florida, Gainesville. (Photo by Thomas Wright courtesy University of Florida)

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