The Car of the Future May Help Power Your Home

New report suggests electrified transportation will soon be a necessity rather than an option.

Published: 19-Feb-2001

Palo Alto, Calif., - February 19, 2001 - Electric vehicles may one day supply electricity to the power grid, say scientists at the Electric Power Research Institute. They could serve as generators when they are not on the road (90% of the time for most vehicles), helping alleviate electricity shortages and saving money for the consumer. If proven cost-effective, such vehicles could become widely used, and could even generate enough electricity to reduce the requirement for global central station generation capacity by up to 20% by the year 2050.

The most likely car of the future is a fuel-cell powered hybrid using hydrogen or a hydrocarbon fuel such as gasoline as the primary source of electric power. Such a vehicle would combine the high efficiency of the fuel cell with the ability to generate excess electricity. On arriving home in the evening, the consumer would plug the car into the house, power all the home appliances, and generate excess electricity to sell back to the grid. Specially designed two-way meters would run backwards to reduce the electric bill.

"Electrified transportation is rapidly becoming a necessity rather than an option," says Stephen Gehl, EPRI's director of strategic technology and alliances. Gehl is also project director for EPRI's Electricity Technology Roadmap, a guide to the R&D required to meet the world's energy needs for the next 50 years and beyond. "Currently approximately 20% of global energy is used for transportation and almost all of it comes from oil. A dependable transportation system for the future will demand energy efficiency and a declining dependence on oil." The threat of oil production peaking in the next two or three decades, plus its uneven distribution, increases the risk of supply problems, particularly as the emerging economies in Asia, Latin America, and Africa rush to add at least 40 million barrels per day to global demand. In fact, developing countries will account for 2/3 of the growth in world oil demand in the next decade and competition for the world's highly geographical! ly concentrated petroleum reserves is likely to perpetuate global instability, distorting geopolitics, and affecting defense policy over an ever-wider range of nations.

Electricity's future role in transportation looks very promising. Increased dependence on electricity in the form of batteries, fuel cells and various hybrid configurations will help moderate increasing competition for petroleum as the developing countries build up their transportation systems. Electrically driven vehicles can not only improve energy efficiency, but can also significantly reduce carbon emissions from transportation as technology advances. Already, fuel-cell-powered vehicles are about twice as efficient as their gasoline-fueled counterparts. Over the next decade, electric, hybrid, and fuel-cell-powered vehicles should be competing aggressively with each other in the market for personal transportation. All will take advantage of the efficiency of electrically-driven wheels. These designs are the first steps toward the ultimate goal of hydrogen-fueled systems that provide a truly sustainable, zero-emissions surface transportation capability.

Technologies to develop these vehicles are needed now, says EPRI. This is the time for collaboration among the electricity, fuels, and automotive industries, as well as the major governments of the world, to create an energy efficient, clean transportation system for the future.

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