High gasoline prices have put hybrid vehicle technology in the spotlight - and Manitoba aims to be in the driving seat in the quest for this technology.
Manitoba Hydro has announced a research-and-development project to review the potential of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and the possible impact the new technology could have.
"This new technology has potential to offer multiple benefits to Manitobans including significantly reducing driving costs and vehicle emissions," says Greg Selinger, minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, in a press release.
Manitoba Hydro has converted one of its 2005 Toyota Hybrid Prius cars so it has a battery pack that can be conveniently plugged in and charged at any standard 120-volt outlet.
The higher-capacity battery storage allows the plug-in hybrid to effectively run as an electric vehicle for approximately the first 50 kilometres.
After that it will run as a conventional hybrid.
Bob Brennan, Manitoba Hydro's president and CEO, says one of Hydro's goals is to be a national leader in implementing cost-effective energy conservation and alternative energy programs.
The company researches alternative transportation fuels, such as biodiesel, as well as alternative transportation technologies, some of which are becoming available and suitable to Manitoba, including the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
Manitoba Hydro will be monitoring the PHEV in everyday use for a year, evaluating data including gasoline consumption and battery performance in the province's cold winter conditions.
"One reason we're testing is to ensure that our electricity distribution system can handle it, that it won't overload the system," says Brennan.
It's expected that most people would recharge vehicles overnight, when the demands on the distribution system are lighter.
Ken Thomas, manager of fleet services for Manitoba Hydro, says the vehicle has potential for reducing fuel consumption.
"It's a quiet vehicle with a dramatic reduction of emissions," Thomas notes.
"About 1.5 billion litres of gas are consumed in Manitoba annually, and these vehicles can eliminate 10-20 per cent of that, so it is gasoline-efficient.
"We can compare the PHEV's efficiency with other hybrids next October, after studying the collected data. It should be a good vehicle for commercial as well as private drivers."
(Ashoke Dasgupta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)