Plug-in Prius

You might be thinking, "Why is this green building blog talking about a car company?"  But don’t, because the relationship between home, work, transportation, and all that is quite complex.  Yesterday, news on Toyota’s plug-in hybrid technology spread across the internet at a fairly quick clip — it’s important news that will affect us in more ways than the price paid at the pump.  According to Autoblog Green, Toyota announced it would produce a plug-in hybrid with lithium-ion batteries starting in 2010, with large scale production into 2011-2012.  This is good news, but here’s why plug-in electric vehicles matter for the future of green buildings:

Plug-in hybrid owners need to have sources of power that are green.  Buildings, and particularly green buildings, if they prepare, can provide that source of green power. 

Switching from Oil to Coal?
Green buildings will be better positioned to supply electrical power to plug-in hybrid owners than those buildings that are not green.  Why?  Well, because plug-in hybrid owners don’t want to just switch from oil to coal.  Sure, coal is cheaper in price, but it’s not cheaper in terms of environmental impact.  Car owners want to get away from coal and oil completely.  They want to use renewable energy to electrically power their plug-in vehicles.  So, green buildings source some or all of their energy from renewable sources — and if they can channel that to the plug-in stations, car owners will receive a valuable service.  Any planned green building project with a parking lot or garage needs to have plug-ins planned. 

Green Buildings Replace Gas Stations?
Second, green building owners should consider the economic benefits of being able to provide green energy to plug-in hybrid vehicle owners.  Buildings might just replace the gas stations.  Let me say that again: buildings might just replace gas stations.  The following scenario illustrates how this might work.

Imagine if (1) you have solar on your roof, (2) your company building purchases/generates green power, and (3) you own a plug-in hybrid.  You plug in the car at night to recharge.  You plug in the car when you get to work to recharge.  You might run errands in between, but you have some good distance in the car, so you can do a lot between home and work, and vice versa.  You probably never need to fill up the car with gas, unless you have a long road trip.

Also imagine, maybe, that you go to the mall or some other retail establishment that has Solar Groves in the parking lot.  You’re set to recharge while you’re shopping.  These retail establishments could place a meter on the plug and charge a price based on how much energy you take.  The price they charge might even pay for the Solar Grove system or even just pay for the retail establishment’s energy requirements.  Plug-in hybrid owners might just shop or work longer, depending on how much juice they have in the car!

Buildings, parking lots, and facilities that can show plug-in owners that they’re providing green energy will benefit.  Depending on the time it takes to recharge, quick stops at gas stations won’t work and stationary recharge moments in the parking lot or at home will work.  So places that have recharge points might even develop new individualized pump-type technology to meter how much energy they give to a car.  New business models can and should spring from this technology.

Technology Interconnections:
So it’s going to be important to pay attention to the interesting connections between renewable energy creation, plug-in stations, energy storage systems, off-peak energy use, smart grid technology, and plug-in hybrid vehicles.  Plug-in hybrids are one component to an interesting new energy future and participants in the green building movement should anticipate this new energy future.