CU conducts Hybrid Electric Vehicle Study

CU’s Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute is determining how well plug-in-hybrid electric vehicles (PHVs) will do in Colorado’s environment.

Toyota Motor Corp. recently donated 10 additional cars to the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI). The study now has a total of 28 PHVs, which enable the researchers to obtain more information on user experiences and system interactions from Boulder residents.

The Hybrid Electric Vehicle Study has been ongoing since September 2010 and has been a joint venture between the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and RASEI.

Michael Knotek, director of the RASEI, works to bring various resources together from CU and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to work on projects and problems.

“This study is a small example of how various elements of an academic institution, government and the private sector can work together,” Knotek said.

Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. has been an integral partner; it originally supplied the study with 18 Prius PHVs.

“Toyota considers the study very important,” Knotek said. “One of the key strategies of the nation going forward is electrification of transportation. Electrification can be very efficient and very clean.”

Xcel Energy has partnered with the CU Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute and Toyota to investigate the possibility of plug-in-hybrid electric vehicles and a SmartGridCity. Above, is an informational PDF from Xcel's website. (CU Independent File/Robert R. Denton)

Xcel Energy participates in collecting the study’s data and also helps determine how the vehicles interact with the “smart-grid” technology.

SmartGridCity is the name of Xcel’s “smart-grid” systems.

“SmartGridCity was set up to be a technology pilot that allows Xcel Energy to explore grid modernization in a real-world setting,” said Michelle Aguayo, a media relations representative for Xcel Energy.

According to Energy.Gov, “Smart grid’ generally refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation.”

“Since the implementation of SmartGridCity, we’ve been able to help customers reduce energy use while we’ve also benefited from improved reliability,” Aguayo said. “We are currently studying a number of pricing plans for customers along with other energy management tools.”

Wayne Tomac, a 33-year-old graduate student working towards a PhD in urban planning, works with principal investigator of the study, Barbara Farhar.

“[The study is] fairly unique in that it blends social science research with energy research, which is a major goal of Barbara’s,” Tomac said.

To study the PHVs here in Boulder, researchers have circulated the vehicles randomly to residents who volunteered to participate. Participants receive the car for a three-month period.

“Boulder has a community that is an early adapter of clean technology, so from that standpoint, people are seeking this out more than other communities,” Knotek said.

The electricity the car uses and the energy consumption of the home of the participants are measured with the help of Xcel.

“[Xcel Energy is] pleased to be able to provide a platform for CU and Toyota to continue to study electric vehicles and how they work in a smart-grid system,” Aguayo said.

Because the study is still in the data collection phase, researchers are unable to discuss the findings thus far. After all the data is collected, the RASEI group will analyze the data and report what the study revealed.

“We expect to have very interesting results coming out of the study,” Tomac said. “It does look like some unexpected results which is very interesting.”

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Adrian Garcia at

Adrian D. Garcia

Adrian is a senior studying news-editorial journalism and psychology. He is on the pursuit of happiness, enjoying country music, vegetarianism and reading along the way.

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