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UF Researcher Helps Test Next Generation Plug-In Hybrid Car Technology

  • By:
    Stu Hutson – (352) 273-3569
  • Source:
    Pierce Jones – piercejones@ufl.edu, (352) 392-8074

Pierce Jones demonstrates how to charge an experimental plug-in hybrid electric car
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Fluctuating gas prices and environmental concerns are leading many to electric-powered cars, and a new University of Florida partnership hopes to find out if it’s really a cleaner, cheaper and more reliable choice.

UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension researcher Pierce Jones is working with North Carolina-based companies Progress Energy, Advanced Energy and Duke Energy to test a Toyota Prius modified to use electricity delivered through a regular household electrical outlet.

“This isn’t a new idea, but it is one that now has to be closely examined because it’s likely to be a reality in just a few years,” said Jones, who is participating in the research as part of UF’s Program for Resource Efficient Communities. “There are a lot of questions to be asked and a lot of details that have to be ironed out beforehand.”

The UF car is one of 12 that will be deployed throughout Florida and North Carolina. The researchers involved will chart basic use patterns, such as how much gasoline and electricity is consumed. Similar vehicles can travel more than 100 miles on a gallon of gas.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the project will also seek to show that electric cars won’t overburden local electrical grids. For years, the largely unspoken concern about electric cars is that they could become a victim of their own success. Too many electric cars plugged in at the same time, some worry, could cause power failures.

“Developing the necessary infrastructure to enable widespread use of electric vehicles is part of our balanced strategy to address the challenge of global climate change, while meeting growing energy needs,” said Bill Johnson, CEO of Progress Energy.

The hybrid is equipped with smart-charging hardware that moderates the time and pacing of the charging. Additionally, the car will be tested with a technology dubbed Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) functionality.

V2G allows the car’s charging system to synch with the local electrical grid. Not only does this stop the car from drawing on an overtaxed grid, it could contribute small amounts of electricity (for which the operator would be reimbursed) back in—thus helping the entire electrical grid become more reliable.

The project also will document drivers’ patterns, to help determine how charging stations and billing should be implemented.

“It used to be that electric vehicles were rare, but I think they’re going to be here before we know it,” Jones said. “That means that we’ve got to figure out the tricky details of how they’re really going to work so we can make the best use of this new technology.”

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