FERC Boss Dubs the Plug-in a ‘Cashback’ Hybrid

nrel-prius-plug-in-hybrid-demo-vehicleThe head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) predicts that plug-in hybrid vehicles will provide immense benefit to power grid operators — enough for utilities to provide kickbacks to their customers, paying down the extra cost of a plug-in in as little as three years. Jon Wellinghoff, FERC’s acting chairman, made that comment at a Las Vegas trade show last week according to coverage by the Las Vegas Review-Journal (which I picked up on thanks to the keen newswatching eyes of specialty publication EV World).

Wellinghoff’s comments refer to plug-in hybrids equipped with the smarts to communicate with the power grid, which he termed the “Cashback Hybrid” according to the Review-Journal article:

When the Cashback is plugged in, motorists can allow the utility to vary the speed at which the battery recharges so that the utility can more closely match supply and demand for power on the electric grid…In return, the car owner could obtain cash back or a credit from the utility that makes the electricity free, he said.

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Electric Vehicles Can Cut Power Plant Pollution

Last week we saw that doing right by the environment is more complicated than simply downsizing the carbon footprint. Shifting to soot-free power sources will reduce mortality in cities, we noted, while increased use of variable wind power could jack up emissions of smog-forming NOx from the ‘peaking power’ plants that ramp up and down to balance electrical supply and demand.

Now power grid modelers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory add another twist to this story with a report that electric vehicles (EVs) plugged into the grid can reduce NOx emissions and possibly more. Their report “Emissions Impacts and Benefits of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles and Vehicle-to-Grid Services” appears in the January 22 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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Solar Squabble Tops Renewable Energy Podcast

Carbon-Nation returns today from a month-long hiatus that took editor Peter Fairley on a fact-finding mission to North Africa. More to come on that. For instant gratification we refer you to the latest installment of Renewable Energy World’s Inside Renewable Energy podcast, released this morning. Topping this week’s podcast is an interview with C-N’s editor on the growing acrimony within organic photovoltaics research over the credibility of recent reports touting record power output from this promising next-generation approach to solar power.

Call it another friendly effort to pop the solar bubble before unrealized hype damages the entire industry. Akin to lancing a wound to stem a life-threatening infection. 

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Popping the Solar Bubble

A sudden zeal to go fossil-free is fueling plenty of hype in renewable energy circles. That hype hits its shrillest notes in the promise of the least cost-effective of the major renewable options: photovoltaics that convert sunlight directly into electricity.

Consider the holiday season gush around silicon-valley PV startup Nanosolar. The firm was founded to demonstrate a truly novel nanotech-inspired design, but is now commercializing comparatively conventional CIGS thin-film PV. Nevertheless, after Popular Science crowned the company’s “Powersheet” as its innovation of the year, articles on this “game-changing technology” multiplied to fill the slow late-December news season.

Never mind that Nanosolar declined to disclose the most important spec on its product: the efficiency with which it converts sunlight to electricity. Without the efficiency, it is impossible to analyze the product’s economic potential.

The solar rot, however, goes deeper than venture capital-fueled startups. My latest feature for IEEE Spectrum — “Solar-Cell Squabble” — shows that some scientists may also be overstating their advances. And they may be doing so in peer-reviewed reports in top journals such as Science and Nature.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of solar energy, in all of its myriad forms. I’m ecstatic to see research dollars once again pouring into solar energy. But let’s make sure those dollars don’t pour back out via the sink, or walk out the rear exit.

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