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AEP Works To Boost Use Of Electric Cars

A major Columbus utility holding company is working with the auto industry to more quickly develop plug-in electric hybrid cars. Mass production of such cars in the U.S. is still at least year or two away but when so called e-cars arrive in bigger numbers in showrooms, auto fuel markets will get fractured. WOSU's Tom Borgerding reports.

Near the top of the American Electric Power building in downtown Columbus, Director of Distribution Engineering Services, Larry Dickerman, calculates the fuel demand of a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle.

"We're looking at something that has the demand roughly of two refrigerators." Says Dickerman.

That's much less than the cost of gasoline. While the development and sale of more electric cars could be a financial boon for consumers. It would also help A-E-P and other electric utilities financially. Dickerman says frequent charging of the vehicles will boost demand for its product. And, if most consumers charge their cars while they sleep then A-E-P can more readily meet that demand without having to build more expensive power plants.

"For the most part, these vehicles can charge during the night when people generally aren't using them and that is our off-peak period so it could work together very nicely for us and the owner of the vehicle." Dickerman says with a range of 40 miles per battery charge electric vehicles could reduce gasoline use by as much as 30 percent. Across town, at the Ohio Petroleum Council on East Broad Street, Spokesman Terry Fleming is less sanguine about electric cars.

"And I don't mean to be flip about this but its like a golf cart. You've got a giant battery operating your automobile."

Fleming says demand for gasoline and diesel will be hurt a lot more by the economy and the price of crude oil than it is by electric cars coming on line. Nevertheless, Fleming says the petroleum industry has studied the possible effects of alternative fuels.

"Our industry has spent, I think, in the last three years eight billion dollars on alternative fuels, looking at where we will be in the future. What is the best viable alternative to fossil fuels and just not close right now on any of the alternatives we're looking at, including electric. " Says Fleming.

Still, the competition for future auto-fuel market share will intensify according to Ohio University Professor Chemical Engineering Kevin Crist. Crist says concerns about air pollution, global warming, and energy security will play a role in development of future fuel markets. He says the competition between electric and gasoline is instructive.

"Because they're trade-offs here. One is you don't have the emissions with the automobiles because they're running electric and they're highly efficient. But you are producing more at-the-point sources where you're producing electricity and you need to study that to see what the net effect is gonna be."

Crist says those studies will take years.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News