The Scion That Goes Both Ways

Scion EV

You know how sometimes you hear about an idea that seems so obvious you kick yourself for not being the one to think of it first?

That’s what happened to me when I read this story about a professor at the University of Delaware who has stripped apart a Scion xB and converted it to an electric vehicle capable of hitting 90 mph and going 120 miles between charges. 

The rise in popularity of electric cars is happening fast, and begins to beg the question of how many electric vehicles the country’s electrical grid can handle. While we’re still years away from having enough electric cars to cause a serious drain on the grid, it’s a valid question.

Enter Professor Willett Kempton, whose Scion doesn’t only consume electric energy, it gives it back.

The battery in the car works two ways, receiving energy and then returning stored electricity back to the grid. As an added bonus, the car can serve as an emergency energy source in case of a power outage; it’s a drivable generator. Get a few million of these babies in people’s garages and suddenly the United States has an innovative energy storage system that can provide a backup to the country’s taxed energy grid.

Down the road, it’s even possible for customers with these cars to receive checks from the power companies in reimbursement for storing energy; money that over time could end up paying for the car itself.

See? It’s an idea that makes so much sense I know I could’ve thought of it. But I guess it took a professor to actually build it!

Does a two-way electric car have any effect on what you think about electric vehicles? If they were affordable and available, would you own one?

-tgriffith

8 Comments

  1. Please suggest me car which is comfortable & efficient ie. a “comfortable high miler”. Diesel car would be an ideal choice & my budget is highly variable….

  2. An electric car that actually gives back and can be used as a generator is a brilliant idea. Makes me interested to see what other clever ideas people will come up with to adjust to the depletion of our natural resources.
    If the price was fair I know there would be lots of people turning to vehicles like this. I know I would.

  3. uhhh, I don’t think you’ll be charging electric cars with solar panels unless you have a few acres of them, and of course we’re assuming that you work at night so the car can charge when the sun comes out.

    When I worked at GM Research Labs, I did a study on energy density and electric cars. To compare gas versus electric energy density, we did a graphic that compares rates of fueling a gas vehicle ocmpared to the GM EV1. We calculated that if you could fuel an electric vehicle at the same rate that you refill the gas tank of a conventional car (a few minutes for 20 gallons of fuel versus a full charge and the same cruising range) at best you could recharge just under 20 EV1’s with the rated output of the Fermi II nuclear power plant. (That’s newcular for you GW Bush fans.)

    Of course the newer battery technology (the EV1 was lead-acid) is much more efficient, but it does take quite a bit of juice to charge these cars. The saving factor is that we would tend to charge at night when demand is lowest. Because we have such a large capacity electrical grid, I don’t think charging full electric or plug-in hybrids will be an issue in the next ten years or so, and as demand increases (along with reduced charging time), the utilities will likely create a smart charging system that will allocate charging times to balance the load. And you also have to ask the question if that energy isn’t better spent cracking water to make hydrogen for fuel.

    With the starvation for fresh water in the Western USA, a large nuclear plant could desalinate sea water and generate hydrogen at the same time.

    But here and now, there seem to be tons of unqualified people running around showing how easy it is to go electric and the net result seems to be finger-pointing at the automobile industry for “dragging their heels.” It’s one thing to hand make a one-off $70,000 electric car and quite another to develop, test, validate, manufacture and provide a warranty for vehicles that the public drives. That’s a job several orders of magnitude beyond hand-building cars, as electric vehicle makers like Tesla are discovering.

  4. @CQ
    Well, considering there are about 240 million cars in the U.S. alone, I think 20 years is a conservative estimate before electric vehicles are making a dent. And by then who knows, maybe hydrogen will be viable or some other fuel source we can’t even fathom right now will become available. Whatever happens, it’ll sure be a fun process to watch! Thanks, CQ for your intelligent conversation here.

  5. @tgriffith

    Good points. As far as what price is fair I think as you said getting within 5k would be necessary and obviously the closer the better. I think once within that range of 5k, consumers would start to be able to rationalize the extra spending. Since people will be getting a “generator” with the purchase, that will further make the extra spending worth it in their mind. However I think it would be critical to figure out exactly how much money it would cost to charge these vehicles. The first question that comes to mind is, How long will I have to drive this vehicle to make up the extra money I spent? I’m sure car companies would come out with a figure that looks great, but just like gas mileage figures they are measured in “ideal” conditions. What would the real world cost be?

    Furthermore the tipping point to electric may really be when the cost equals gas powered vehicles. There are so many variables that its hard to lock down a “fair” price. Some big variables are those that will affect the price of electricity. If solar power is pushed to the forefront by this administration that would be a huge plus in convincing people to buy these vehicles. I’m sure there will be people out there who think electricity will sky rocket once people start buying these cars because the demand will increase by so much. It’s a hard question but at least we’re still moving in the right direction. I’m glad I’m young and will get to see it happen. I do think it will be a good 10-15, maybe 20, years before electric cars are sold as much as gas powered. How long do you think it will take until Electric outsells Gas?

  6. @CQ
    Hi CQ,
    I think the holdup is the same as with any new technology: price and the ability to mass produce. The Scion in the story cost $70,000 to assemble. I don’t know anyone willing to spend that kind of money on an xB! However I think if the price could be within $5K of a gas-powered version, the market would eventually adjust and the oil companies would just have to deal with it. I’m interested: what price do you think is fair for a car like this?

  7. This is such a great idea. I’ve thought for a while now of having solar panels on your roof that would be used to charge your car in your garage, but this goes one step further than that. My question to you tgriffith is what is the hold up? We always hear about the BIG oil companies doing “things” to keep electric cars non-existent. Is this still the case to a certain extent? Or is the technology just not quite there yet to produce cars like this at a reasonable price?

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