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Riding on The Wind

Plug-in hybrids usher a new era for wind power.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2008

benefits PHEVs could provide for wind energy, concluding that “PHEVs could be a significant enabling factor for increased penetration of wind energy.” 7 This study examined three scenarios for PHEV penetration by the year 2050: An aggressive scenario in which 50 percent of the nation’s light-duty vehicles are replaced by PHEVs with an effective battery-powered driving range of 60 miles; a more conservative scenario with a lower penetration; and a scenario with no PHEV use. In the high-PHEV scenario, the benefits of PHEVs allow windpower to double its market penetration compared to the scenario without PHEVs. While overall electricity use increases by 7.3 percent in this scenario because of the additional demand from PHEVs, the use of natural gas and coal actually decreases because wind energy provides a significant share of the electricity for the PHEVs.

The scenario with a lower penetration of PHEVs also found significant benefits for wind power, with wind generation increasing by 13 percent over the no-PHEVs scenario. Aggregate emissions were reduced in both the aggressive and conservative PHEV scenarios, as more transportation energy comes from clean, inexhaustible, and domestically-produced wind energy.

Beyond 20 Percent

Wind-powered cars aren’t the only solution to the transportation sector’s environmental and energy-independence challenges. Meeting those challenges inevitably will mean dramatic changes to entire sectors of the economy—a reality that makes consideration of multiple models an appropriate and necessary response.

Yet wind power, enjoying its newfound position as a mainstream energy source, seems to be at the center of most plans for America’s energy future. This year, for example, T. Boone Pickens unveiled an energy plan under which much of the nation’s vehicle fleet would be powered not by electricity but by natural gas. In unveiling the plan, Pickens captured the public’s attention with a multi-million dollar media campaign rife with spinning wind turbines.

Under the Pickens plan, wind power would replace large amounts of natural-gas fired generation in the electric industry, freeing the natural gas saved to be used in the transportation sector. So regardless of the model, wind energy will be a key part of the equation for cutting dependence on foreign oil. And under that new paradigm, 20-percent wind energy penetration becomes only a starting point.



1. 20 percent Wind Energy by 2030 , U.S. Department of Energy Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy, July 2008 .

2. Impacts Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles on Electric Utilities and Regional U.S. Power Grids – Part 1: Technical Analysis ”, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, November 2007 .

3. Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles , EPRI and NRDC Report, 2007 .

4. Plug In Hybrids on the Horizon ,” EPRI Journal , Spring 2008 .

5. Potential Impacts of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles on Regional Power Generation , Stanton W. Hadley and Alexandra Tsvetkova, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, January 2008.

6. EPRI Press Release, “EPRI, GM, 34 Utilities Collaborate to Advance Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles,” July 22, 2008.

7. A Preliminary Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles on Wind Energy Markets , W. Short and P. Denholm,