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January 27, 2009
Kevin Coburn, Director of Communications

100-Mile per Gallon Commute a Reality in
Vermont Road Test

POULTNEY, VT -- Is a 100 mile-per-gallon commute reserved for some future technology or is it attainable on Vermont roads today? A recent road test of an advanced hybrid Toyota Prius conducted by a Green Mountain College researcher suggests that the future is now.

Dr. Steven Letendre, economics professor and research scientist at GMC, has been collecting and analyzing data on two prototype plug-in hybrid vehicles owned by Central Vermont Public Service.

As a test case, one of the cars was used by Green Mountain College professor Dr. James Harding for his nine-mile commute between Poultney and his home in Middletown Springs during the fall semester. “As I started to analyze the data I was amazed to see that the vehicle was getting easily over 100 mpg for Jim’s daily commute to and from the campus,” said Dr. Letendre. “In a few cases the vehicle’s fuel economy was over 140 miles per gallon.”

Like a conventional hybrid, a plug-in runs on a battery pack and a gasoline engine. But the plug-in hybrid doesn't just recharge its battery from the engine – it can also recharge by connecting to a standard electrical outlet. The “souped up” CVPS Prius vehicles were converted into plug-in hybrids with installation of the larger batteries and a plug.

A conventional hybrid Prius gets about 50 miles per gallon. The results of Dr. Harding’s test indicate that real-world performance, even on winding rural Vermont roads, can break the 100 mpg ceiling. Harding reported that the car responded well to road conditions he encounters on Vermont Route 140, a two-lane rural highway with a maximum speed limit of 50 miles per hour.

“I was very conscious of the internal display on the dashboard, which tells you when the engine goes from battery power to gas,” he said. “It tends to make you more conscious of the energy the vehicle is using, and instinctively you want to lighten up on the gas pedal as much as possible.”

Harding said he saw a 60-cent per day increase in his electric bill when he plugged in, but at current gas prices his monthly fuel costs for the test period translate to about $6.

“As a utility, we are very interested in the future of plug-in electric vehicles in Vermont,” said CVPS fleet manager Dan Mackey. “We started the CVPS plug ‘n go™, the first plug0in hybrid program of its kind in the nation, to see if plug-in technology makes sense. CVPS has the ability to provide more power at night, at lower costs, when demand is low. That power could be used to charge cars.”

Research in 2007 by Dr. Richard Watts, research director of the University of Vermont Transportation Center, and Letendre shows that the Vermont electricity grid can handle 50,000 plug-ins without any changes to the existing system. The number rises to more than 100,000 if people recharge the cars at night. A national study conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2007 concluded that by the year 2050, plug-in hybrids could reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouses gas by more than 450 million metric tons each year, equal to eliminating more than 80 million cars and saving about 4 million barrels of oil each day.

According to Dr. Letendre, a national expert on plug-in hybrid vehicle technology, most major car manufacturers are planning to build and sell plug-in hybrid vehicles using new advance battery technology. “Even though fuel prices have dropped significantly from the summer months, there is still a great deal of interest in reducing our use of oil for transportation,” Letendre said. “It is likely that we will see new efforts by the Obama administration to promote this technology.”


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