Discover BrilliantToday at lunch: “Squeezing the Balloon — The Opportunities and Challenges in Plug-In Hybrids,” by conference moderator P.S. Reilly.

Also: Andy somebody from UC Davis, John Baker from Austin Energy

Andy: Oil prices are rising, peak oil’s on the way, automakers are worried they won’t be able to sell their cars.

Plug-ins offer redundancy — two sources of energy.

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Baker: We see it as a way of addressing climate change.

Third guy whose name I didn’t catch: I looked at it as a problem, since it would move tons of demand to electricity. But I came to see that doing it correctly could be a huge win. Studies have since confirmed that we could move completely to plug-ins with little need for additional utility capacity. The question is, how to you jumpstart it?

Reilly: Those studies are suspect. We’d run more coal and natural gas at night. The NOx and SOx would be concentrated in rural areas. How can we do this without relying on coal and gas?

Baker: We’ve got a coal plant, but it’s dispatched, and we’re not building any more.

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Andy: 80% penetration of plug-ins, like the study assumes, would take 40 years, and by then we could develop plenty of renewables. The plug-in can give individuals energy security, with household solar and wind.

Third guy: Plug-ins also enable storage for intermittent renewables. We also want to build recharging stations at park-and-rides.

Reilly: We do a disservice when we say we already have the capacity to do this. Instead we should say that the possibility of doing this makes converting to renewables more economically attractive.

Andy: When you couple plug-ins with solar and wind, you’re not displacing electricity, you’re displacing oil, which is much more expensive. That radically cuts down your pay-back time for solar. (Great point!)

Third guy: The first few plug-ins will be extremely expensive. Scaling up will reduce the cost. How to get it accelerated? There’s a role for government.

Andy: American automakers won’t start this. Toyota will be first. How can we motivate our car companies? We need to start building millions of these things. The key is creating public demand. But we also need a push from the federal gov’t.

Third guy: There are federal initiatives afoot to encourage plug-ins.

Baker: We think this makes business sense for utilities. We want more renewables and more demand reduction, but we’re quickly hitting limits, so this could bump up those efforts.

Andy: The chokepoint is the intelligent grid. The car’s already intelligent. It needs a grid it can communicate and coordinate with.