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Plug-in Hybrid Cars Could Reduce Emission Levels

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Plug-in hybrid cars would cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 500 million tons a year by 2050 without taxing the electric grid, according to a report issued Thursday by an unusual coalition of power companies, General Motors and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The report found that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, using power primarily from the electric grid would cut U.S. greenhouse vehicle gas emissions by 33 percent from levels today.

"There is no plausible future electric scenario where PHEVs do not return a significant carbon dioxide emissions benefit," according to the report, conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute, the research arm for electric utilities.

The success of plug-in hybrids is predicated on the ability of utilities to measure when power is used and to encourage people to charge their cars at night, John Bryson, chief executive officer of Edison International in Rosemead, California, said. California is regulated and Bryson said his company would not profit from greater power demand from hybrids.

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The study assumed that people would charge batteries 74 percent of the time at night, when power demand is the lowest. The study also assumed that plug-in cars would begin building market share in 2010.

"The electricity industry really wants to sell all this extra power, but they need to be realistic about power demands," said Craig Jacobs, a principal engineer at Eaton, which is developing plug-in hybrid utility trucks. "People are going to want to charge their cars when they want to charge their cars, and that might not be at night."

"This starts very slowly, it's very predictable," said Mark Duvall, an EPRI program manager, who was the chief researcher on the report. "Here we are years away from any meaningful effects from plug-in hybrids and utilities want to study it this year."

Hybrid developers still must resolve problems associated with the heat of lithium-ion batteries, which have exploded in laptop computers, and with safely equipping homes with adequate power sources, said David Garman, former under secretary of energy, during an interview.

GM, the biggest U.S. automaker, is developing battery technology in hopes of selling 1,000 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrids by the end of the decade. Toyota, the biggest automaker in Asia, is also working on a version of the technology.

Last week, Ford Motor and Edison announced they were collaborating on an effort to develop rechargeable batteries, which would be installed in 20 Ford Escape gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles for tests by Southern California Edison later this year.

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