Fuel Efficiency vs. Fuel Substitution: Grid Power Instead of Gasoline

by: Jim Kingsdale

Technology Review, an MIT publication, ran a piece on plug-in hybrids in its recent March/April issue that focused on the green implications of substituting grid-based power for gasoline. In other words, would it be a cleaner alternative?

The piece caused me to think further about our current hybrid products and the more efficient next generation of lithium-ion based hybrids. Clearly, they are a means to greater fuel efficiency. They do nothing to eliminate our dependency on petroleum; they only make our fuels go further.

Fuel efficiency is good, but eventually it will not be enough. We will eventually run out of petroleum that is remotely affordable for cars. At that point we will need to cut our connection between cars and petroleum completely, so we will need fuel substitution. That will require grid-based electrical power. Unless you believe in the fantasy of fuel cells, which I obviously do not, plug ins are the only way to connect grid power to cars.

So plug-ins are the way we will have to go at some point. The inevitability of plug ins makes the new Israeli project seem even more brilliant than I had thought when I originally wrote about it.

Apparently plug-ins are scheduled for introduction in 2010. They are forecasted to make up 20% of automobile sales by 2020 and 60% by 2050. It appears that by 2015 they might be 5% of sales and would by then make up less than 1% of the U.S. fleet. Thus, they will have no impact on the price of oil through 2015.

However, they will ultimately be the solution. In order to take over the market entirely, there will have to be electronic re-fueling stations and/or battery exchange stations that are as ubiquitous as gas stations are currently. That’s what the Israelis are starting to envision. Smart people.