News Stories

Whatever Happened to...

...The electric car? As oil prices rise, along with troubles in the Middle East, engineers are searching frantically for another way to fuel automobiles. The government is pushing biofuels, there's hope for hydrogen, but whatever happened to the electric car? It turns out it's still a contender, and you can use it to run your house as well.

A team of researchers at the University of Delaware has created a system that enables vehicles to not only run on electricity alone, but also to generate revenue by storing and providing electricity for utilities, so you can run your home off your automobile! The technology, known as V2G, for vehicle-to-grid, lets electricity flow from the car's battery to power lines and back.

Researcher Willett Kempton already has one of those large plugs at his home. He has a 240-volt plug that gives the battery a full charge?or a range up to 150 highway miles?in just two hours. A smaller, standard 110-volt plug works but provides a full charge in about 12 hours. The smaller plug also moves less power for the grid operator when the car is in V2G mode. Kempton estimates the value for utilities could be up to $4,000 a year for the service, part of which could be paid to drivers. The technology will work on a large scale because on average 95% of all cars are parked at any given time. One hour a day of car usage is the average in America.

"A car sitting there with a tank of gasoline in it, that's useless," Kempton says. "If it's a battery storing a lot of electricity and a big plug that allows moving power back and forth quickly, then it's valuable."

What's it like to drive the new electric car? Zippy yet quiet, being behind its wheel is a thrill, he says. "I hate getting back in my gas car. It feels sluggish. When I get home, I'll charge up and then switch into V2G mode." Something to do before opening your mail and checking the messages on your answering machine.

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