Green Mountain converts hybrids to plug-in’s

Demonstrating a new way to power cars with solar energy, Green Mountain Power (GMP) has converted two of its Toyota Prius fleet vehicles into plug-in hybrids (PHEV’s). The cars’ batteries are charged using a 4 kw solar array that has been installed at GMP’s headquarters in Colchester, Vermont. The solar-charged vehicles boast mileage in the neighborhood of 100 miles per gallon for local trips and are among the cleanest vehicles on the road today.

To let the public know that the hybrids are powered in part by solar energy, Green Mountain Power has decorated the cars with bright graphics that proclaim, “Runs on Rays.”

“These cars actually do ‘run on rays’,” said Mary Powell, president and chief executive officer of GMP. “We installed enough solar power on-site here to fully charge them for day to day operations as a fantastic illustration of what’s possible.”

Plug-in hybrids are similar to conventional hybrid cars, but with additional battery capacity that can be charged by conventional household current. The 5 kwh battery pack is added to the trunk of the car and takes about 5 1/2 hours to charge. Once that power supply is exhausted, the vehicle runs like a regular hybrid making them incredibly versatile vehicles.

The electric industry is watching the development of plug-in hybrids carefully so that it can be prepared for the impact on the electrical grid. According to Ms. Powell, “The environmental advantages of using electricity rather than gas will help quickly drive this technology forward. We wanted to use plug-in hybrids both to support the development of the technology and to be sure we fully understand how it will affect our future power supply needs.”

Any Prius 2004 or later can be converted with the purchase of a kit. Even without the benefit of solar charging, a plug-in hybrid produces about 70 percent less carbon than a conventional gasoline powered vehicle.

Green Mountain Power currently operates 11 hybrid vehicles and plans to continue using fleet operations as a test bed for new technologies and demonstration projects.