photos: green wombat
Talk about a clean commute: As part of an $11 million green cars initiative, Google is creating a plug-in hybrid car-sharing fleet. Employees will be able to book a super fuel-efficient plug-in Prius online through a partnership with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, charge the car under a solar-powered canopy at the Googleplex and, eventually, feed electricity from the car’s battery back to the grid. Google (GOOG) and California utility PG&E (PCG) demo’d the technology yesterday in Mountain View during the launch of the RechargeIt.org initiative from Google.org, the search giant’s philanthropic arm.
Under sunny skies, Google.org chief Larry Brilliant drove a white plug-in Prius emblazoned with the Google colors into a parking bay whose roof is covered with solar panels, part of the company’s 1.6 megawatt solar installation – the nation’s largest. He got out of the car and grabbed one of the retractable power cords hanging from the roof and plugged in the Prius to applause from the Googlers and guests. (Plug-in hybrids feature larger, rechargeable batteries that allow the cars to travel further on electric power, dramatically increasing fuel efficiency as the gasoline engine is used less.) "We hope to demonstrate the potential of plug-in hybrid cars and vehicle-to-grid technologies as a way to create a more, secure and efficient green energy system," Brilliant said as nearly a dozen other Priuses sat parked behind him. A123 Systems/Hymotion has converted two Priuses for Google, which will use them to gather data on plug-in hybrid performance. So far, the Google Priuses – named Galapagos and Great Barrier Reef – have averaged about 74 miles per gallon – that’s 3.2 liters per 100 kilometers for readers residing in the metric world – and produce 68 percent fewer emissions than the average U.S. car.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who rode to the event on a bicycle, showed how plug-in hybrids can feed electricity to the grid at peak demand times to reduce the need to tap greenhouse-gas emitting power plants. "I happen to have a Prius but not a plug-in. Now I’ll have to try to get one myself," Brin said. "It would be very nice not to have the inconvenience of going to gas stations." He plugged a power cord into a Prius and then pressed a button on a laptop that sent a wireless signal to the car, which began sending electricity back to the grid.
"I think the potential for plug-in hybrid cars and all-electric cars is really great," Google co-founder Larry Page told Green Wombat as he stood by his blue Huffy bicycle. "I love the demo with the plug-in to grid. If you have tens of thousands or millions of these cars, the amount of energy they can produce is much more than the normal generation capacity."
As part of the RechargeIt program, Google will invest $10 million in alternative transportation technologies and is giving $1 million to various groups to advance plug-in hybrids. Small change, perhaps, by Google standards, but as electric car companies like Silicon Valley’s Tesla Motors have shown, you don’t need Detroit and Tokyo’s billion-dollar budgets to make significant strides in automotive technology. Tesla, for instance, will put its Roadster super car on the highway for about $100 million.
But efforts like Google’s plug-in hybrid car-sharing program may have the most potential to light a fire under the automakers, which have so far dragged their feet on developing such cars. When up to 100 converted Priuses begin cruising the highways and byways of the Bay Area, many consumers are going to have the same reaction Green Wombat had after a ride in the Tesla Roadster: I want one. Now imagine if other Silicon Valley companies – say, Yahoo (YHOO) – follow Google’s lead and create similar car-sharing programs. Microsoft (MSFT), for instance, itself has a huge solar array at its Mountain View campus.
"We hope programs like this will encourage manufacurers to make similar commerically viable plug in cars available. We know there’s a pent-up demand for such a product," said Enterprise executive Greg Stubblefield. And we’re anxious to see manufacturers progress in that direction. As we would certainly be a buyer for these vehicles."