The Model G: Google's Plug-in Hybrid Campaign

When Henry Ford’s neighbors watched the young inventor roll his first gas-powered contraption out of a backyard shed, they had no way of knowing how the rickety four-wheeled carriage would revolutionize human transportation.

More than 100 years later, the billionaire founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, backed out of a parking space in a Toyota Prius converted to run almost exclusively on energy from solar panels. This demonstration of the capabilities of plug-in hybrids, and the two-way flow of electricity between car and electric grid, could have a profound impact on transportation in the 21st century.

“Symbolically, this event is very important” said Stephen Schneider, one of the authors of the recent United Nations report on climate change. Dr. Schneider, a professor of environmental studies at nearby Stanford University, was at Google’s headquarters to observe. “We have to get people to stop thinking big is cool, and start thinking efficiency is cool,” he said.

The Google founders’ two-minute journey was part of the company’s celebration, on June 18, announcing the switching on of the largest solar installation to date on any corporate campus in the United States. The installation will help the company reduce its environmental footprint and power its new fleet of plug-in cars with clean solar electricity. The dashboard display of the converted Prius driven by Mr. Brin and Mr. Page showed a fuel economy reading of 99.9 miles-per-gallon, the highest number that the Toyota hybrid is capable of showing.

This five-minute video produced by Google describes plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, vehicle to grid (V2G) and Google.org’s RechargeIT project.

One highlight of the event occurred when Mr. Brin tapped a key on a laptop computer to launch the so-called “vehicle-to-grid” capabilities of the “ReChargeIt” project. With the keystroke, a nearby energy meter, paused and then spun backwards, showing the flow of energy out of the plug-in car’s batteries and back into the electric grid. The crowd cheered when the meter, projected on a large flat-screen monitor, reversed directions.

Google teamed with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to pull off this demonstration of the two-way flow of electricity between car and electric grid. "Clean energy technology can dramatically shift how we make and use energy for our cars and homes by charging cars through an electric grid powered by solar or other renewable energy sources, and selling power back to the electric grid when it’s needed most" said Dr. Larry Brilliant, executive director of Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google which is spearheading the ReChargeIt project.

“The new energy economy is being created right before our very eyes,” said Brad Whitcomb, vice president of customer products & services, Pacific Gas & Electric. “We’re also exploring how this new energy economy can transform our transportation infrastructure.”

For several years, academic researchers and government labs have pointed to vehicle-to-grid (V2G) exchange as a way to provide greater stability to America’s aging electric grid. In a V2G world, cars will become mobile energy storage devices—and garages, parking lots, and roads will become a distributed transportation energy web, much the same as the Internet has become a distributed system for information.

Google.org also partnered with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to create a free car-sharing program for Google employees. With Enterprise’s backing, the program will eventually expand to include 100 plug-in hybrids. Greg Stubblefield, president of California and Hawaii Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said “If Google can do for automobile engines what they did for search engines, then we’re off to a great start.” The addition of 100 plug-in hybrids to Google’s fleet will provide invaluable data related to the performance and long-term viability of plug-in hybrid technology.

Dr. Larry Brilliant

Dr.Larry Brilliant,executive director of Google.org, said, "Clean energy technology can dramatically shift how we make and use energy for our cars."

David Vieau, president and CEO of A123 Systems, the company supplying the lithium batteries in Google’s new plug-in Priuses and Ford Escape Hybrids, admitted that there was still a lot of work to do on the battery systems before plug-in hybrids are ready for mass production. Vieau said that the battery industry has recently made great progress. “But if you think I’m saying game over, I’m not.” Many prominent auto battery experts view the safety, cost, and longevity issues associated with lithium batteries as the Achilles’ heel of plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

When Mr. Page was asked if his family roots in Detroit had an effect on his support of advanced car technology, he declined to answer. One attendee associated with the project was more forthcoming. “This project tells General Motors and Ford and the American political establishment that it’s time for a change, and we’re not going to wait any longer,” said the gentleman, who asked not to be identified. “If Detroit doesn’t lead, California will.”

Google.org also announced that it will distribute $10 million in grants to organizations accelerating the development of battery technology, plug-in hybrids, and vehicles capable of returning stored energy to the grid.


  • Ardis Williams

    Right ON! Let’s go for it. This is very exciting. How about neuclear energy to produce electricity cheaply?

  • twoaces79

    I guess you can’t call them the big three anymore. Anyway, GM, Chrysler and Ford are afraid. All three have been beaten so badly in the market, they are afraid of another failed innovation. Leave it to the new CEOs to lead. Those three has beens will follow like little puppies.

  • Jerry

    this is exciting. These guys are taking a chance. not having the big 3 involved we can get some creative and benificial ideas rather than the 10 reason not to do it.

  • Dan

    It good to see to enterpreneurs take the lead. Yes they don’t have the old ways of thinking to hold them back. Yes they will be inovative and I wish them the best of luck and I hope they make billions in the process.

  • Jerry

    There is a slightly different article on cnnmoney.com that outlines additional google research funding.
    http://money.cnn.com/2007/06/19/news/economy/google_plugin/index.htm?cnn=yes

  • P

    It’s great to see 2 pioneers like Larry Page and Sergey Brin lead the way again. They’re not waiting for dinosaurs like GM, Chrysler, and Ford to produce plug in hybrids. They are making a real effort to reduce imported oil from the middle east. The auto manufacturers need to make a plug in option for every model of car on the market. Give the consumer the option to choose to buy cars like plug ins. I hope these guys suceed and make billions on this endeavor.

  • Dave and Sally

    We have a ’54 Chev dump truck and are waiting for a solar sports car that looks like a Miata.

  • john

    we had battery technology 10 years ago and the oil industry bought the company and shelved the technology because they knew it would be a threat to their profit base!!! The person of that company was an inovator, creating numerous products for power regeneration. check out the dvd “who killed the electric car”.

    With the google guys pushing it, there is now a great chance of this moving to the mainstream.

  • sean

    Google is not bound by big oil companies!

  • Gerald Shields

    But let’s see how far this goes first.

  • Gerald Shields

    Other companies like Microsoft would get into this also. I see them rolling hybrid all of the time on their various campuses.

  • James

    I just put Solar panels on my house. I am anticipating getting a plug in hybrid as soon as I can. It looks like thats pretty soon. Following the links from stories I found about the Google story, it seems that there is now a company that will convert a prius for a price. With the conversions and the price of the prius, it looks like about $45,000. Looks like I have bought my last BMW. Too bad they can’t see the light. I will miss BMW (dearly). I must confess that I get about 12mpg in my currrent BMW 3 series because I never leave the city. It just feels wrong. If was my 3rd BMW adn I would have stayed for life if it didn’t take war for life to fill up the tank.

  • Rashad

    The two Young Billionaires of Google doing a Great Job!! At 21st Century we are gonna drive a Electric Hybrid Car Hw abt 22nd and 23rd Century? No Fuel?

  • Bert

    HEV’s and EV’s are here and speading like wildfire! So many benefits. Here’s another company doing it:
    http://www.hybridtechnologies.com/

    Check out the clip on Modern Marvels under the Multimedia hotspot on the site or click here:
    http://www.brightcove.com/title.jsp?title=909809245

  • Kevin

    If only Model G stood for government getting a clue!

    At least somebody is getting a clue. Vote Chris Dodd, president ’08

    http://www.chrisdodd.com/energy_independence

  • jay

    If only google would BUY one of the big two auto manufacturers[chrysler is already
    spoken for]and clean up their act from the ground up.

  • Greg

    Just got through test driving a Civic Hybrid and a Prius last night. Coming from a family of “Buy American” Southerners, I was surprised all the scare tactics my family used on me were all false. Both of the hybrids drove like a dream. I will choose the Prius, because the upgrade to plug in sounds awesome!

  • michael a.

    Look at the average age of the Google CEOs versus the Detroit CEOs. You will see a big difference.

    The younger CEOs at Google have more at stake with Global Warming – they, their kids, and their portfolios are going to be impacted by the climate crisis.

    The older CEOs in Detroit, are closer to retirement and death, so they won’t be around as long to benefit from a Green Future. All they see is the costs that the transition to Green Energy will require. Some of them may not care much for their descendants either.

    We need younger people in Business Leadership AND in the U.S. Congress.

  • vote regan!

    ummm…vote regan?

  • Drake

    Check out http://www.teslamotors.com they have a 100% electric sports car. Shows that electric doesn’t sacrifice power or performance. Pricy but the best way for a new age car company going and get the technology out there. Why waste time trying to convince car companies that don’t listen to make better products when you can just do it yourself and beat them. Both of the google guys are actually big investors of the company; I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned

  • Steven B

    Electric propulsion is the way of the future. Electric cars have been overcome by ICE’s three times in the past: at the dawn of the automobile, during the oil crises of the ’70′s, and during the ZEV Mandate debacle in California during the ’90′s. We are entering another advent of the electric car, but this time it will stick. And by the looks of things, GM and not Toyota will be the big car company that makes it happen with their Chevy Volt!

    I’m wondering though, if Tesla will beat them to the punch when they release their mid-size sedan in a couple of years. It’ll be the EV-alternative to the BMW 5 series according to what Tesla says, but that’s a really good niche market: luxury sedan buyers.

    The big thing about the age of CEO’s, though, that was mentioned: The older CEO’s of the big auto companies are not disconnected from electricity simply because of their age and the fact that they’re on their way out sooner, as it were, compared to the internet moguls of Google. It’s because their generation was much more disconnected from electricity than Gen X and Gen Y. Not everything plugged-in back in the day, but Google cannot run without electricity, but the products of GM can, even if their factories cannot. But soon, their cars will be able to plug-in, we’ll be able to make our electricity at home, as well as buy it from the grid, and use liquid fuels along with it. The promises of electric hybrids are all-American, have your cake and eat it too! And V2G is awesome!

  • Smoke and Mirrors!!

    The Google Boys might be driving around in a Prius, But the article doesn’t mention that they fly around in their own private Boeing 747, which leaves a carbon footprint bigger then any average person!!Driving a Prius is not helping and the fact they have a plane so big makes them look like a hypocrite. .http://www.luxist.com/2005/11/07/the-google-guys-buy-a-boeing-767/

  • michael a.

    Sal I,

    I STRONGLY disagree.

    If the Google guys use their money to successfully commercialize Plug-In Hybrids, the reduction in global CO2 emissions would be MASSIVE – far far beyond all the emissions the Google guys could individually rack up during their lives. This is the Big Picture that Conservatives so often ignore.

    Al Gore has been similarly crucified by conservative media for his travel. However, his spreading the message will have a HUGE impact on future CO2 emissions – far far more than any C02 emission reduction he could achieve as in individual.

    Tiny minds usually fail to see the BIG PICTURE.

  • victor

    chevy anf ford should both consider in making these types of vehicles beacsuse i think thats they’re falling behind in the new hybrid century.

  • sabroxo

    screw these hbrid tiny cars… why don’t you guys make big trucks out of these types of materials… hybrids and what not?…

  • mrbig

    My Prius was converted to PHEV in December 2006, runs great, I help the ecology and global worming and save a LOT of $$$ in not using gasoline so often like YOU !!, my electric recharge is costing me 85 cents at NY expensive rates.

  • Doug

    I am thrilled Google is leading the way on clean energy. The Oil & Auto companies are hell bent on destroying our planet. I will not buy another new car until it is a PLUG IN HYBRID. No more oil wars! No more global warming, Now that will be a great day!

  • Dennis Hedges

    Love your forward thinking.I have a patent for applying wasted energy absorbed by vehicle shocks to electricity.I have not had the money for a prototype. Can you help?
    Denny Hedges/541-673-4472
    dennyhedges@catholichealth.net

  • war3d

    These cars cannot be considered “green” unless they are recharged from a green power source. Recharging a vehicle with power generated by a traditional power station just shifts the point of pollution from the car back to the source. Then you’ve got the problem of 100 or so kilos of batteries per car. Generally speaking, mining and manufacture don’t come close to being green… It might be a step in the right direction, but these cars are a long way from being green.

  • bitman

    War3d, why do you assume that many hybrid owners do not have solar panels? I certainly DO! In fact I generate more power every year than I use. On top of that electricity can be generated from man different green sources (wind/waves/sun/geothermal/cow dung), whereas oil comes mostly from terror supporting hostile regimes.

  • war3d

    Bitman, you are one of a very small minority of alternatively fuelled car owners that has taken an additional step to partially ensure the integrity of their external power requirements, and I commend you on your stance. But the fact remains that the majority do not.

    Most people’s understanding of the “green” concept is entirely superficial as can be demonstrated in your case by the idea of generating power from cow dung. Did you know that a large contributor to the greenhouse gas methane is flatulent domestic cattle?

    At this point in time alternative power generating techniques are either uneconomical, inefficient or impractical on a large scale. There are exceptions, Iceland with their geothermal power and heating. They are fortunate in being in one of the few areas of the world where the primary source of heat is close to the earth’s surface. Others around the world are for want of a better term “boutique”.

    As for making assumptions, the next time you sit behind the wheel of your “green” car, perhaps you would care to contemplate the vast array of petrochemical or chemically derived plastics that clothe the interior. Or perhaps you would contemplate the origin of the metals that make up the rest.
    The environmental destruction caused by mining and refining processes or the vast quantities of non-green energy consumed during manufacture of the metal components.

    Perhaps the answer is a wind powered steel mill processing recycled materials… lol

    As for your inane comment about “terror supporting hostile regimes”, would these be the same regimes that your government cultivates in order to insure an adequate supply of oil so that industry can bring to you a “pseudo green” car?

  • Alan Deane

    war3d, we know, we know. Now go and do something positive.

  • Matt Mathews

    Interested in doing something positive to promote greater understanding of PHEVs, (for example, combating the misunderstanding that PHEVs just transfer the source of their putatively equivalent pollution to the power plant)? Then please see my wiki:

    http://phev.wikispaces.com

  • Mark

    Maybe they should construct the car using hemp and cow dung?

  • sadira

    just one more reason for me to LOVE GOOGLE!!!

  • Li-ion Motors

    I am jospeph informing you that Hybrid Technologies company has been changed his name as Li-ion Motors

    I just want to let you know that we have changed this URL http://www.hybridtechnologies.com to http://www.li-ionmotors.com You can check old link is redirected to new one.

    Regards,
    joseph
    Li-ion Motors Corp.
    USA.

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