The Week has an excellent brief introduction to plug-in hybrids:
One intriguing solution is the "plug-in hybrid." These have a trunk-size, 750-pound battery, which provides more power and can be charged every night in a standard 120-volt outlet. These batteries can accelerate a car up to 30 mph before the gasoline engine kicks in, so a gallon of gas would last 100 miles or more. "If you used it only locally, you would go to a gas station only a couple of times a year," says Felix Kramer of CalCars, a nonprofit that supports alternative automotive technologies. A few demonstration models have already been produced. Cost is a real problem, though. Experts say the plug-in batteries could add $10,000 to the price of a car.
Doesnt that make it cost-prohibitive?
Not necessarily. The price would drop once these cars were produced in large numbers and economies of scale came into play. The higher cost also would be offset by huge savings on fuelthe typical driver could save $100 a month or more on gas.
I'm all for plug-in hybrids, but let's not forget that the energy that's flowing into the car via the plug-in is statistically likely to be mostly coal generated. I'd like to see how the pollution equivalents work out as far as miles per kWh.
Of course, if you buy wind credits for your home power and use that to power your car, then you're good to go.
If you used it only locally, it could be a bicycle.
That depends on your location. For me, being located in the Pacific Northwest, 50% of our generation comes from hydro. Of course hydro has it's own set of environmental challenges but there is no CO2. Also, imagine a Prius integrated with "smart grid" technology. The Prius would "ping" the grid and everytime surplus wind power is available, would begin charging. Currently, many utilities are sometimes forced to sell this generation for pennies on the dollar in the middle of the night to other utilities (I know because I buy it). Another option is for market pricing being the determinent for charging time. If millions of "smart grid" PHEVs were plugged into the grid this becomes and incredibly powerful tool for our energy industry and demand side management. The possibilities are limitless. Also, coal (Thermal) plants become incredibly inefficient and polluting when they are shut down so running them 24/7 is less dirty than bringing them on and off line for peaks.
Are there any studies with numbers of PHEV's that would be needed to make a smart grid profitable?
Gasoline Engine kicks in at 30 mph? That is hardly my idea of an "electric car that has a gas engine for added range when needed". That's just a prius with a bigger battery, which is great and all but a lot of people spend a lot of time traveling at more than 30 mph. When these things have 150HP electric engines and 70 HP gas engines instead of the otherway around, then it will become worldchanging.
On a CO2 per miles driven comparison, I seem to remember that electric wins out over standard gasoline engine, even when the power is all coal.