Gas Optional?

Mon Aug. 22, 2005 6:03 PM EDT

The city of Austin, in conjunction with its electric utility, Austin Energy, unveiled a new program Monday, entitled Plug-In Austin", that aims to create a market for plug-in hybrid vehicles. The goal is to support the mass production of plug-ins by committing to a bulk purchase of vans for its municipal fleet, as well as to encourage other major cities to make similar efforts.

One neat component of Austin's plan is that much of the city's energy comes from wind farms in West Texas. Austin Energy currently gets 6.5 percent of its power from renewable sources, most of that from wind. The utility is aiming for 20 percent by 2020. To date, their efforts have resulted in bigger sales of renewable energy than any other utility in the country, and numerous awards. Meanwhile, the Sprinter runs a diesel engine, meaning that it could harness bio-diesel and other renewable fuel sources as those start to come on-line. Although such fuels are used only in very small numbers at present, several studies, including this one by the Natural Resources Defense Council suggests that there is enough biofuel potential to meet half our production requirements by 2050, creating futuristic visions of a largely renewable transportation system.

Considering that four out of five Americans live with 20 miles of their jobs, and that Austin officials estimate the electricity load at night is only half that during peak hours during the day, many consumers could drive their daily commute with using a drop of gas, fill up at night, and do it again the next day without stressing the grid. Of course, if they ran out of juice, their plug-in would run like a conventional hybrid.

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