The broken promise of renewables

Back in 2011, Google engineers came to a conclusion guaranteed to give Greenpeace nightmares:  “Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.”  Google promptly dropped its work on renewables and looked at other options.  The dirty secret of renewables is that, in the words of Robert F. Kennedy Jr, “the plants that we’re building, the wind plants and the solar plants, are gas plants“.  Fitful wind and shaded sun are just a coat of greenwash over the fracking industry.  That is, unless they are greenwash on the coal industry.  Even wind-leader Denmark still generates nearly half of all its electricity from coal.  Germany’s carbon emissions, formerly on a steady downtrend, rose slightly after 2011 and German policy apparently relies on burning lignite forever, having no concrete initiatives to ever replace it.

Recent data suggests that leakage makes natural gas as bad for the climate as coal.

Worse yet, the emphasis on “wind and sun” since 1995 has also been a period when fossil fuels maintained their share of world energy at about 87%.

If the aim of renewables is to eliminate fossil fuels, they have been a miserable failure.  The entire reason fossil fuels were developed is that wind, sun and wood were inadequate and taxed beyond their limits to meet our needs.

The 20 years previous to the Renewables Era (1975-95) saw the fossil share of world energy drop by about 7%.  Renewables were not responsible for this.  Nuclear power did it.  Denmark reported its 2012 emissions at more than 350 grams of CO2 per kWh, compared to Sweden’s 35 gCO2/kWh for 2012.  Nuclear power has cleaned up the grids, and the air, in France and our neighbor Ontario.  Toronto had no smog days or advisories in 2014.  That the last coal-fired power station in Ontario shut down in 2013 is no coincidence.  It shut down because the Bruce Point nuclear station came back to full power.  Despite 30 years of nuclear paralysis in the USA, nuclear power still generates 60% of our carbon-free electricity.

People are so afraid of radiation that they will take dirty air and expensive electricity instead.  But is there anything to fear?  Fukushima is the worst nuclear plant accident outside the Soviet Union, and so far there have been no injuries to the public and the UNSCEAR says there probably won’t be any.  People live, work and vacation in places with radiation far higher than most of the Fukushima evacuation zone.  If small doses of radiation were dangerous, people would not go to hot springs for their health.  Hot spring waters are often full of radium, and the gases carry radon.  The EPA hypes radon as a danger, but lung cancer rates in the USA fall as domestic radon increases.

Radiation is nowhere near as dangerous as it’s been made out to be.  To quote FDR, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  We should not let a little radiation dissuade us from doing anything worthwhile, whether it is getting an X-ray or using nuclear power to replace fossil fuels.

Nuclear power does a very good job of displacing fossil fuels almost completely.  A coal-fired plant emits around 950 grams of CO2 per kWh (the average US coal plant emits more than 1000 grams; see below).  The USA emitted about 570 grams in 2011, Germany 477 grams in 2011 (or 510 grams, if you prefer a German source), and Denmark emitted 315 grams.  Ontario’s grid is averaging somewhat over 100 grams, France is somewhere in the 60-80 gram range, and Sweden (touted by climate scientist James Hansen) lately reported emissions of 35 grams.  If the world had gone the way of Sweden 30 years ago, we would probably not have a climate problem staring us in the face today.

The push for wind and solar has been going on since the 1970’s and it has barely cut the growth of fossil-fuel consumption; by contrast, nuclear energy has essentially replaced fossil fuels on just about every electric grid where it’s been allowed to.  Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing and expecting a different result”.  Even the countries most dedicated to renewable energy continue to use a very high proportion of fossil fuels.  It is time to conquer our irrational fears and go to nuclear power.


Facts, figures and calculations

The most recent EIA figures for the USA go up to the year 2011.  In that year, the electric power sector reported total generation of 3796.9 terawatt-hours (billions of kilowatt-hours):  1687.9 TWh from coal, 24.1 TWh from petroleum, and 809.2 TWh from natural gas.  The reported CO2 emissions were 1718 million metric tons from coal (1018 gCO2/kWh), 411 million metric tons from natural gas (508 gCO2/kWh) and 25 million metric tons from all forms of petroleum (about 1040 gCO2/kWh).  (The figures for petroleum are dominated by “petroleum coke”, which a coal-like byproduct of the refining of heavy oils and bitumens and is burned much like coal.  Since all US generation from petroleum of any kind is barely 1.5% of the total, it is easier to disregard it than to try to deal with all the details.)

Total 2011 non-biomass CO2 emissions in the electric power sector were 2,166 million metric tons.  Averaged across the entire US electric power sector, this comes to 570 gCO2/kWh.

Japanese utilities are trying to limit the amount of solar electricity on their grids, claiming that they cannot guarantee reliability of the system if there is too much unreliable, uncontrolled power simply dumped into it like water from a bucket.



The Motley Fool writes about Illinois transition from a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to a Clean Energy Standard (CES), and what it means for Exelon and nuclear energy.  We do not need “renewable energy”.  We need energy that doesn’t use the atmosphere as a dump.  There’s a lot more of that on the US grid today than just wind, solar and hydro.  The majority of it uses uranium.

Japanese utilities can only handle a fraction of the solar power that others want to connect to their wires.  When the sun is shining bright, solar power overwhelms the grid and is without value; when the sun goes down, solar power isn’t available at any price.  It is time to stop paying people to create problems instead of solving them.

Ben Heard addresses the nuclear waste issue in a talk worth watching in its entirety.

Shortlink to this post:

The 2009 slideshow from Penguicon

Here’s the slideshow I created for Penguicon (or the fraction which survived the forced shutdown after the video driver hung in projector-only mode when I had to surrender the room).


Economics of the Chevy Volt and F150 PHEV

The list of retrofit/prototype/experimental EREVs just got longer.  Auburn Hills-based (why haven’t they offered me a job?) Alt-E LLC has raised the ante on its Crown Victoria conversion with the addition of a converted F150.  (Auburn Hills company showcasing converted Fords… must be some disaffected ex-Chrysler people in there!)  They’ve put their weight behind a new term, too:  REEP (Range-Extended Electric Powertrain).

I’m not a fan of pickup trucks.  Let me rephrase that:  I am NOT a fan of pickup trucks!  But if this vehicle had been in showrooms the last time I was car-shopping, I might well have bought one.  The stated highway economy of 32 MPG isn’t far from what I get with my Passat TDI, and the beast can both tow almost 5 times as much and can run a claimed 52 miles on its batteries before it needs to start its engine (presumably with nothing on the hitch, and a light foot on the accelerator).  If I had one, I wouldn’t need gasoline for more than about one trip a month.  The last 2 months have seen a lot of long-distance travel, but I would still only have needed about 33 gallons of gas; everything else would have been covered by electricity.

GM claims 50 MPG for the Chevy Volt in charge-sustaining mode.  If Alt-E’s claim of 32 MPG for the F150 conversion is comparable, it’s burning 56% more fuel for a lot more vehicle.  I’m inclined to be a bit skeptical (could the comparison be highway vs. city?) but that is still quite good.  But which is the better deal?

Whichever one is “better” depends on the use, but usage indicates who ought to convert first.  People who drive a 6 MPG vehicle across town on the last weekend of the month during the summer are a much lower priority than people who drive a 14-MPG vehicle 50 miles every weekday year-round and further on weekends.  But what’s the first thing to attack:  the pickup segment or the commuter segment?

The most expensive part of the PHEV/REEP is the battery, while the biggest savings is fuel (with engine and brake maintenance running a distant second).  We can get a feel for the benefit gained by looking first at the typical fuel savings per kWh of battery capacity, and second at the reduction in fuel consumption in charge-sustaining mode.  This needs to be calculated in fuel consumption, not mileage, so I will use gallons per 100 miles (similar to the European convention of liters/100 km) instead of MPG.

I will assume 3 driving cycles.  Cycle 1 simulates a daily commute and is 40 miles per day, starting with a full charge and no recharging.  Cycle 2 simulates a weekend of driving with 200 miles of errands or recreation, with one 75-mile out-and-return trip starting with a full charge and the remaining driving consisting of short trips with frequent recharges.  Cycle 3 simulates a vacation to visit family and consists of 300 miles of driving in 2 stages with a full recharge at the beginning of each stage.

Assuming the vehicle is driven on cycle 1 250 days/year, cycle 2 on 24 weekends/yr (2 weekends/month) and cycle 3 is driven 4 times per year (certain holidays), I get the aggregate energy consumption in the last column.

Vehicle Battery
gal/100 mi
Fuel used
cycle 1
Fuel used
cycle 2
Fuel used
cycle 3
Fuel savings
cycle 1
Fuel savings
cycle 2
Fuel savings
cycle 3
Annual fuel used Annual fuel
savings, gal
Annual savings
Percent fuel
Volt equivalent 0 0 3.33 1.33 6.67 10 533.33
Volt 16 40 2 0 2.2 4.4 1.33 4.47 5.6 70.4 456.8 28.55 86
F150 2WD 0 0 6.25 2.5 9.38 18.75 925
F150 REEV 25 52 3.13 0 3.06 6.13 2.5 6.31 12.63 98 797.25 31.89 86
Commute, mi: 40
Electric mi/yr: 11120
Months $/kWh Residual value
Monthly payment
Volt battery
cost, $/mo
Alt-E F150
cost, $/mo
0.05 72 450 135 $5.64 $90.17 $140.89
0.05 72 450 45 $6.71 $107.36 $167.75
0.05 72 450 0 $7.25 $115.96 $181.18
Annual fuel savings @ $/gal
Fuel price $2.75 $3.50 $5.00 6-year savings @ $5/gal, excluding electricity
Volt battery cost, $/mo $90.17 $174.17 $516.77 $1,201.97 $7,211.84
$107.36 -$32.12 $310.48 $995.68 $5,974.08
$115.96 -$135.27 $207.33 $892.53 $5,355.20
Alt-E battery cost, $/mo $140.89 $501.77 $1,099.71 $2,295.58 $13,773.50
$167.75 $179.44 $777.38 $1,973.25 $11,839.50
$181.18 $18.27 $616.21 $1,812.08 $10,872.50
Electric cost, $/kWh Electric use, kWh/mi Electric cost, $/yr Net savings, $/yr @ fuel cost

Net 6 year savings @ $5/gal
$0.10 0.25 $278.00 -$103.83 $238.77 $923.97 $5,543.84
$0.10 0.4 $444.80 -$310.12 $32.48 $717.68 $4,306.08
-$413.27 -$70.67 $614.53 $3,687.20
$56.97 $654.91 $1,850.78 $11,104.70
-$265.36 $332.58 $1,528.45 $9,170.70
-$426.53 $171.41 $1,367.28 $8,203.70

(These figures were generated from an OpenOffice Calc spreadsheet and saved as HTML to create the table.  The spreadsheet allows you to vary the length of the daily commute.  Pardon the lack of clarity on the last section, I’m not quite sure what I meant by that part any more either.)

I realize that the VMT figures are about 30% higher than average, but they are probably representative of a substantial fraction of suburban commuters with new vehicles (vehicles have historically covered half their lifetime VMT in the first 6 years).  People with longer commutes and heavier usage patterns will have the best ROI on efficiency improvements and ought to form the leading edge of the mass-market, following the early adopters.

Several interesting things pop out of this spreadsheet.  One is the similarity of the benefits for the 40-mile commute; both save 86% over the equivalent ICE powertrain.  Even the fuel consumption is within 30 gallons.  The second is the greater savings per kWh of battery for the F150, despite a commute exactly equal to the Volt’s rated AER; if the batteries cost the same per kWh, the F150 battery has a greater ROI than the Volt’s due to the greater reduction of fuel consumption.  If you increase the commute to 45 or 50 miles, the comparison increasingly favors the F150 REEP; at 50 miles the Volt’s savings fall to 79% vs. 88%, the savings per kWh of battery are 7.5 gallons lower, and its total fuel consumption is even higher by 22 gallons (trivial, but interesting).  The major unknown is battery usage and lifespan for the Alt-E.  We know the Volt’s designers have been very conservative.

The question on everyone’s mind:  when does it pay to buy batteries to replace fuel?  This depends mostly on the price of batteries and fuel, with the price of electricity coming in third (1).  The near-future cost of lithium-ion traction batteries is falling in at around $450/kWh.  A lease payment at 5% interest with 30% residual value after 72 months gives a monthly cost of $5.64 per kWh, or $141/month for the Alt-E F150.  At today’s gasoline prices, the EREV/REEP is a slight loss.  If you are driving 1300+ miles/month and saving 3+ gallons per day at $3.50/gallon or more, that’s going to pay off nicely.

I was going to try to add a little Javascript calculator to this post so everyone could play with figures right here, but it was taking too long so I’m posting without it.  I’ll probably make a post for it.

(1) If an electric powertrain is 65% efficient wall-to-wheels and regenerative braking is included, electricity at 11 cents/kWh costs about as much as a 20%-efficient engine burning gasoline at 75 cents a gallon.  This is less than 1/3 the cost of gas at the pump today, and about 1/6 of the 2008 peak.  I remember gasoline at under $1.00/gallon as recently as the Asian Flu of 1998, but it’s a safe bet we’ll never see anything close to that again as long as it remains a major transport fuel.

Now Ford schools GM

The announcements are coming fast and furious.  Ford has previewed a 1-liter, 3-cylinder Ecoboost engine for the Ford Start Concept, and announced production intent.  This engine has gasoline direct injection (GDI), turbocharging and a 10:1 geometric compression ratio.  The power is “comparable to a normally aspirated, 1.6-litre I4 powerplant“.  Parts count is of course reduced, and so are friction and pumping losses.  This engine is small, efficient, potent, and (to this engineer) elegant.

I used to drive a Dodge Daytona Turbo II.  The 2.2 liter intercooled Chrysler had only 8.5:1 static compression, and required premium fuel to boot.  Even so, it was very quick once the turbo spooled up.  What that thing could have done with 10:1 compression and the cooling effect from direct injection is scary to contemplate.  A 1-liter turbo GDI engine in a suitably light car should have very satisfactory zoom.

I expect that Ford is going to sell a lot of those things, mostly in emerging markets.  There are on the order of a billion people with the wealth to afford cars for the first time, and they are going to be able to out-bid marginal American drivers with 16-MPG pickups and SUVs.  This means that the world price of oil isn’t going down any time soon.  It also means that the USA’s drivers can either buy 1-liter engines too, or be unable to afford to drive to work solo any more.

GM has gone with a stock 1.4 liter I-4 as the sustainer for the Volt.  This decision looks more and more backward every day.  The weight of this engine no doubt forces design compromises in the vehicle, and the full power is almost never going to be required.  Cutting the 4-banger in half, adding GDI and intercooled turbocharger, boosting compression and shifting the valve timing to go to a Miller cycle would slash weight and increase efficiency.  Vibration would increase, but a sustainer engine doesn’t need direct mechanical coupling to the drivetrain; compliant engine mounts could soak that up even without a balance shaft.  This is the road not taken.

Ford’s decisions are looking better all the time.  The Fusion hybrid is already beating 40 MPG on the city cycle.  Putting the 1-liter Ecoboost 3-banger in it would cut weight and improve the fuel efficiency in all cycles, especially highway.  As for GM?  Government Motors looks to go the way of government cheese.

When Fiat shows GM how it’s done, Detroit is in deep trouble

You would think that the sustainer engine in a car like the Chevy Volt would be cutting-edge for its size, weight and efficiency, wouldn’t you?

You would be wrong.  The sustainer in the Volt is an off-the-shelf 1.4 liter with little to recommend it.  It does not even use the Atkinson cycle.  Worse, it has been owned in every respect… by a 2-cylinder from Fiat!

The turbocharged TWIN-AIR engine appears to outclass the Volt engine in every way.  The Volt sustainer produces 53 kW; the TWIN-AIR, 63 kW.  The Volt sustainer displaces 1.4 liters; the TWIN-AIR, a mere 900 cc.  The TWIN-AIR is 23% shorter and 10% lighter than an equivalent 4-cylinder, and it has a smaller parts count almost by definition.  Variable intake-valve timing for engine throttling could be eliminated in sustainer duty, so GM probably could have obtained most of the advantages without infringing patents pertaining to MULTI-AIR or anything else.

A 2-cylinder turbo engine using the Miller cycle would be tailor-made for a car like the Volt.  I know that Ford was working on EV sustainers at least into the early 90’s (I saw both gas turbines and Wankels in test cells), and I would be shocked if GM hadn’t done the same.  This knowledge has to exist within the company.  When a company can’t convert knowledge to product, that’s it:  they’re dead, they just don’t know it yet.

I have long predicted the demise of GM due to the UAW and its own lousy management, but there’s a new twist.  The US government now owns most of GM.  Does this mean that bad product design will be subsidized by the taxpayer?  If it turns out that way, not just Detroit and Michigan are at risk, the whole country is; that is essentially how the Soviet Union destroyed itself.  If that doesn’t scare you, you aren’t paying attention.

What did Illinois’ bid to produce the Ford Explorer cost the nation?

The news reported the other day that production of the Ford Explorer is being moved from a plant in Tennessee to Chicago.  This is estimated to bring 1200 jobs with it.  Tax breaks were a key factor in Ford’s decision to go to Chicago.  The Tennessee plant is being retooled to make small cars.

Nobody seems to have asked if the Explorer should be made at all.  It’s an overly-bulky vehicle which obstructs the view and increases the minimum safe following distance behind it, decreasing the carrying capacity of the roads.  Its high bumper height causes more damage to other vehicles in collisions, and its high CG leaves it prone to rollovers.  As a matter of public policy, it (and the SUVs from other makers) are less desirable than station wagons.

The SUV segment also affects our balance of trade.  Roughly 57% of all US petroleum was imported in 2008 (source:  Energy Information Agency); this is down from over 60% in 2005.  US petroleum liquids production has been on a steady downward slide since 1985, so it’s safe to say that every additional gallon burned by any given type of vehicle comes from imports.

The ratings I found for the 2009 Explorer are 13/20 for the 2WD V8, 14/20 for the 2WD 6.  At 60% city/40% highway this yields 15.9 MPG for the V6 and 15.1 MPG for the V8.  If we assume 160,000 lifetime miles for the vehicle, it will use on the order of 10,000 gallons of fuel over that distance.

That much fuel costs quite a bit.  If we assume 1 gallon of gasoline per gallon of crude oil*, at today’s crude prices of $80 per barrel it costs roughly $2/gallon and the lifetime supply costs about $20,000.  It has been much worse; at the 2008 peak, crude oil cost almost exactly $3.50/gallon.  The price is edging up, so $2.50/gallon may be a better estimate for the near future.  That would give a lifetime import cost of $25,000.

That is a LOT of money, and it goes to things like the 2,717 foot Burj Dubai.  What if policy had promoted other things instead of the Explorer?  If each Explorer rolling off the line was a Fusion hybrid instead, what would that do for the nation?

The Fusion hybrid is EPA rated at 41/36.  At 60% city/40% highway, the car would average 38.8 MPG.  Over 160,000 miles it would use about 4100 gallons of fuel, or about 5900 gallons less than the Explorer.  This is a $11,800 savings at $2/gallon crude, and nearly $15,000 at $2.50/gallon.  The Explorer’s invoice cost is also about $1000 more than the Fusion Hybrid.  The Fusion Hybrid is clearly easier on the wallet and the balance of trade.

What about the same car with different drivetrains?  The Fusion Hybrid costs about $3000 more than the Fusion SEL.  Over the same 160,000 miles, the SEL at 22/31 would average 24.9 MPG and use about 6400 gallons of fuel over its life.  The Hybrid saves some 2300 gallons, or about $4600 in crude at $2/gallon and $5750 at $2.50/gallon.  This is also better for both wallet and nation.  The Fusion Hybrid may later be converted to a plug-in vehicle if fuel prices or shortages make it worthwhile

Illinois’ tax breaks got a few jobs to benefit Chicago.  I don’t know the cost to the Illinois taxpayer, but the cost to the nation looks to be several times as much as the assembly workers are paid.  If the country was on the right course we would probably have done something much different.

* Not entirely accurate.  Gasoline is less dense than crude, and there is a small “processing gain”.

Bill Gates doesn’t understand efficiency

The Huffington Post has a piece under Bill Gates’ byline in which he says efficiency is over-rated, and what we need is “innovation, not just insulation”.

Perhaps he neglected his calculus studies while he was working to become the world’s greatest software monopolist†, because there are some things he obviously does not understand.  I’ll list a few:

  1. Insulation itself is a form of innovation.  There are a number of zero-net-energy houses already, and their common property is that they are all well-insulated.
  2. If you accept that CO2 is an environmental problem (which he does), you know that the size of the problem is set by the cumulative production (the area under the annual emissions curve).  Once made, emissions are irreversible; delaying them might eliminate them if the source of energy changes in the mean time.  If “innovation” yields the zero-carbon solutions later than scheduled, insulation can make the difference between a small problem and a much bigger one.
  3. The economics of zero-carbon energy systems are likely to be different.  More to the point, some of them are significantly more expensive than coal and natural gas.  Rather than spending lots of money on wind farms and heat pumps, the optimum probably involves fewer wind farms, smaller heat pumps and more insulation.

There are many things which can be done on the efficiency front which make the innovation job so much easier.  PassivHaus technology, or ThermaSAVE structural insulated panels, can help hit close to 100% reductions in their particular consumption niches.  They reduce needs so much that even fairly expensive energy for heating and cooling remains affordable.  They aren’t sexy enough to get Bill’s adrenaline going, but had we adopted them 10-20 years ago we’d already be a long way toward an 80% or greater CO2 reduction.

I know Bill Gates isn’t listening to me (if he did there never would have been such a thing as the “Windows registry”, which has caused so much grief to so many people).  He has enough money that he doesn’t have to listen to anyone, but that doesn’t mean that he’s right.  If anything, his drum-beat of “innovation” to the exclusion of rolling out known solutions will be yet another excuse for others to do nothing.

† I have long despised Microsoft, its founder and its products.  I am a happy user of Linux.

The near future

Jeff Rubin talks about the production of oil, changing demand, the resulting price, carbon, and the economic implications for many industries including autos. It’s about 30 minutes of presentation plus a Q&A.

It is very interesting how the price of oil and carbon both push towards more local production (de-globalization). The effect of higher oil prices pushing more buying power to oil states is worrisome, especially to anyone whose business model depends on personal trucks; doing anything to pump up the flow of money to the oil exporters is tantamount to economic suicide.

What can we do? It’s obvious that just attempting to “stimulate” the economy will go nowhere, because if the stimulus is effective it will be drained out of the economy again by increasing demand for oil and thus the price. Any plan that will work over time has to be based on reducing demand for oil. This means a REAL clunker-removal plan (maybe Priuses for F150’s, certainly not trading from Durangoes to Chargers), building the rolling stock and new sidings and switchyards to get freight off the Interstates and onto rails, and plenty more.

It’s equally obvious that the “shovel-ready” project plans to widen roads for more fuel-consuming traffic should be shovelled into the nearest pothole.

If Detroit is going to live again, it’s going to have to live as a domestic industry using domestic energy. Oil doesn’t qualify, and it’s rapidly becoming unaffordable. The future was almost with us in 2000, with the Ford Precept† and Chrysler ESX-3; the GM EV-1 would have been a runaway success if peak had come a little sooner, or the program had started a little later. Now we have to retrace our steps and re-learn what we had once been ready to do quite well. It’s sad to see how our mis-steps have cost us so much and led us so far astray.

† Disclaimer: I worked on a Ford project to develop a light-truck CVT. I had no part of the Precept effort.

Ancient history

I admit it, I’ve been at this for a while.

It’s strange, but the US auto industry has taken eighteen years to get to a point I foresaw in 1992 (actually earlier, but I don’t have records of it.) From the ancient archives of Usenet News, I bring you words of another time (pardon the formatting, WordPress’s columns are too narrow and I can’t adjust it):

In article <1992May29.182304.14…> dwe… (David Wells) writes:
>What I can’t figure is that hybrid cars haven’t taken off. You get
>about 50% efficiency and low emmisions coupled with 300 mile range!
>Switching fuels (gas, alcohol, propane) is often easy, too!

Hybrids have a problem, in that they don’t fit ZEV specifications, and it is possible to meet ULEV specs without battery storage.   Because having a superior ULEV (or being able to operate as a ZEV over limited distances and speeds) doesn’t give any regulatory credits against the ZEV requirements, nobody has any incentive to make hybrids.

The inflexibility of the regulations is to blame here.   A hybrid would probably be much more marketable than a pure electric, but there is no partial credit and no benefit from lifting limitations which are a big barrier to customer acceptance.  Thus, a class of vehicles which could potentially do more to substitute electricity for gasoline than pure electrics in the near future will likely be ignored.

Ignored they were, until the announcement of the Chevy Volt in 2007. (There are rumors that the Volt was preceded by a Saab concept car which had a plug, but it was covered over by orders of GM management.) Sometimes I hate being right.

Finally, the world is changing. The plug is moving from “green” accessory to high-end convenience. Last year there was the Converj concept car, and this year there is another Cadillac PHEV concept car at the Detroit Auto Show: the XTS Platinum. It’s grossly over-powered for any practical use, but as a luxury vehicle it is probably aimed squarely at its market. Plugging in means more practicality; instead of stopping at the gas station all the time, most “fuel” can come while the car is parked at home. And the list of features doesn’t stop there; pre-heating the seats and defrosting the windows on cold days, or cooling the cabin on hot ones, are the things people buy remote starters for today. Having them as factory options, activated by alarm clock or cell phone, and safely operable inside one’s closed garage will raise the bar on what “luxury” means for a car.