Union Rural Electric Cooperative (URE) will debut Plug-In 1, Ohio's first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), a converted 2008 Ford Escape SUV that can run on a rechargeable advanced battery and achieve 50-60 miles per gallon. It will make its appearance Saturday morning at the Co-op's Annual Meeting, May 3 at Veteran's Memorial Auditorium in Marysville.
Plug-In 1 is a research and development project undertaken by Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives (OREC) to learn how PHEVs perform under rural highway use, pros and cons of the lithium-ion battery and recharging system, and the potential impact of hybrid electric cars on rural utility systems.
"This is a unique vehicle, and the first of its type in the state," said URE President Roger Yoder. "It will yield information of importance not only for the transportation sector but for utilities as we prepare to meet the energy and environmental challenges of the future."
PHEVs are not all-electric cars, nor are they conventional hybrids. The conversion involves installation of a plug-in charging system and replacement of the standard hybrid's nickel-metal hydride battery with 1,600 lithium-ion battery cells (imagine a giant laptop computer battery), boasting 12-kilowatt hours of storage capacity.
Not yet commercially available from major automakers, PHEV conversions - hybrid engine system to plug-in rechargeable - are being been done by a handful of firms, including Hybrid Plus in Boulder, Col., where Plug-In 1 was transformed.
Plug-In 1 must be connected to a household electrical circuit for full recharging, although it also works like a conventional hybrid vehicle. While on the road, engine operation and regenerative braking help offset battery use, but eventually the driver will need to find a handy outlet within reach of an extension cord. It takes 8-10 hours of recharging time to fully restore the vehicle's battery from a 90% depletion level.
During the first 60 miles of operation on a fully charged battery, it is estimated that Plug-In 1 will get the equivalent of 50-60 mpg. As the battery drains and the gas engine takes over, the PHEV achieves 25-35 mpg. Overall, it is expected that the cost of running the PHEV will be equivalent to paying $1.20-$1.40 per gallon for gasoline.
Plug-In 1 and other prototype PHEVs will produce valuable data for electric utilities. The vehicle is equipped with an on-board computer monitoring system so its performance can be recorded and analyzed. The information will be shared in order to evaluate the effectiveness of PHEVs in highway operation and whether these vehicles represent a step toward less reliance on foreign oil. Researchers and car companies also are keenly interested in possible environmental benefits.
The Cooperative Research Network (CRN) and Electric Power Research Institute(EPRI) have undertaken national PHEV studies.
"Widespread adoption [of PHEVs] might reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by more than 450-million metric tons annually by 2050," said Mark Duvall, director of electric transportation for EPRI, a non-profit, utility-based consortium whose members and project partners include Electric Cooperatives.
Duvall pointed out that such a reduction would be the equivalent of taking 82 million conventional passenger cars off the nation's highways.