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Plug-in hybrids: the way to reduce emissions and foster energy independence

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We have within our grasp automotive technology to reduce US oil dependence dramatically. Its development and use, however, requires a coordinated effort between the nation's public utilities and car manufacturers. Now is the time for the electric power industry to apply its expertise and clout to the development of new automotive technology that relies to a greater degree on domestic energy resources.

The prospect of millions of vehicles plugging into the nation's electric grid in coming decades has never been better. In 2005, the number of hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) reached 1.2 percent of new cars sold in the United States, more than doubling the number of the previous year. Spotting a trend, carmakers are rushing to bring hybrids into their dealers' showrooms.

It would be a natural step – and a great benefit – to allow hybrids to charge their batteries via the electric grid. Indeed, there is a growing movement to bring plug-in hybrids to market. This is driven by the economic and national-security benefits that result from displacing gasoline with electricity. Dozens of businesses, utilities, municipal governments, and environmental groups have joined a grass-roots campaign called Plug-In Partners to demonstrate to automobile manufacturers that a national market exists for plug-in vehicles.

While there are no commercially available plug-in hybrids now, prototypes have been built and tested, most notably at the University of California, Davis, and by a collaboration between the Electric Power Research Institute and DaimlerChrysler.

In addition, three start-up firms offer conversion kits for hybrid cars to allow grid charging of the on-board battery pack. These offer the potential to almost double a hybrid's fuel efficiency to approximately 100 miles per gallon.

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