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Poway, Calif., man pushes plug-in hybrids as solution to global warming
[December 12, 2007]

Poway, Calif., man pushes plug-in hybrids as solution to global warming

(North County Times (Escondido, CA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Dec. 12--POWAY -- Kim Adelman is not a physically imposing man, but his slender build and soft voice belie his big ideas. He is a man set on leading a revolution.

In May, Adelman founded Plug-In Conversions Corp., in an effort to do his part in to make the world a better, cleaner place to live. "This is it. We're in a planetary emergency. We have to do something, and this is what I came up with," he said.

His company offers plug-in conversions for Toyota Prius hybrids. By adding 340-pound nickel-metal-hydride batteries, the cars can drive up to 24 miles on electricity alone, he said.

Adelman said he has invested $50,000 in his company, based out of his Poway home. He still needs to run emissions and safety tests on his conversion, so he will not begin installations until January and February. Even after he completes conversions for the three consumers on his waiting list, he will not have recouped his investment. And though the conversions will save gas money, that is not a motivator for consumers, he said, with conversions costing anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000, depending on battery size.

"If people are making a break-even calculation, don't even bother," Adelman said. "The people doing this now are early adopters. They want to make a statement and set an example."

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, known as PHEVs, and fuel cell-powered vehicles are also the focus of Toyota and General Motors aiming to make their fleets cleaner and renewable energy more friendly. General Motors expects to deliver about 100 Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen-fuel powered models by January to a select few that have access to fueling stations, said Rob Peterson, a GM spokesman. And Chevrolet's PHEV, the Volt, could be ready as soon as 2010.

Toyota is still testing its PHEV prototypes, and they will not be ready for at least three to five years, said Bill Kwong, a Toyota spokesman, Tuesday. Toyota is also researching other alternative vehicles such as fuel cell-powered cars.

Both Toyota and GM are concerned about the marketability of PHEVs. "There's a debate that rages on between plug-in and fuel cells," Peterson said. "At the end of the day, it's the market that's to determine who wins."

That's where Adelman hopes to play a role in pushing PHEVs because, he said, they are more environmentally friendly. Adelman's PHEV conversions consist of installing large battery packs in place of the spare tire (which a driver has to live without). The batteries allow the Prius' electric motor to power the car up to 34 miles per hour without burning any gas.

Above 34 mph, or once the add-on batteries are depleted, the car automatically turns on its gas-powered engine. The largest set of batteries, which cost $15,000 and powers the car for 24 miles, requires six kilowatt-hours to recharge. The car has an outlet on the rear bumper that can be plugged into any household 120-volt outlet. Adelman's conversions are only available for Toyota Prius hybrids, but soon might be available on Camry and Highlander hybrids, he said.

PHEVs face questions from people like Toyota's Kwong about how environmentally friendly they really are and whether utilities can handle the extra electricity demand.

"It's still up in the air, that's why we're doing all this research. We need to know, is it viable? Does it make good business sense, and how does it affect the environment?" Kwong asked. "What are we really doing and how big of a carbon footprint are we going to leave with this?" Kwong said Toyota is concerned PHEVs might just replace gas problems with more coal emissions, since the cars will require more electricity from utilities.

The founder of the California Cars Initiative, a group that offers designs of how to convert hybrids into PHEVs, said he thinks the electricity grid could handle the surge PHEVs would add and is not concerned about increased coal pollution.

"Electricity is getting cleaner all the time (with more renewable energy)," said Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars. "If we're going to get cleaner, we're going to have to electrify everything we use and then clean the grid."

Adelman said his conversion is based off a CalCars design. But ultimately, the success of PHEVs depends on whether people will buy them, Kwong and Peterson said.

Toyota released electric-only Rav4 models in 2002, and a lack of interest -- Toyota sold about 400 -- forced the carmaker to discontinue the model, he said.

Adelman said he bought one of the electric Rav4 models, but sold it because he thought car companies would release PHEVs soon. After two years of waiting, Adelman said it was time to show manufacturers that people are willing to pay a premium to live green. His car and his home are powered by 144 solar panels next to his house. He resigned from his job early this year as a computer software engineer for insurance and mortgage company First American Corp. to start his campaign against global warming.

Kramer said there are currently fewer than 150 PHEVs in the world today.

But Adelman said he thinks the electric-vehicle movement is on the upswing. "When is (the electric car) going to come back? It's back. ... This plug-in hybrid thing is the same as when we worked with the (first computers). It has the same excitement where you know this is a paradigm shift," he said. "You know it's going to change the world and change the way we live."

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Copyright (c) 2007, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.
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