Friday, June 22, 2007

Go, Go, Google Hybrid!

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has been known to shake things up in the transportation realm. There's the indispensable Google Maps, and the much-ballyhooed carpool system the company offers its employees. But these initiatives are small potatoes compared to the search giant's latest aspirations.

Through its nonprofit arm,, the company is taking up the cause of electric vehicles. Appropriately enough, its approach is two-pronged. Google is pursuing both plug-in hybrid technology, which lets you charge your car from a wall socket, and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, which sends energy generated within your car back into the electrical grid. The company has pledged $10 million in grants, and it's stocking its corporate fleet with plug-in hybrid vehicles to demonstrate the technology's effectiveness.

Plug-in hybrids aren't quite like the technology found in vehicles like the Toyota (NYSE: TM) Prius or the Ford (NYSE: F) Escape Hybrid. In those cars, advanced battery technology boosts the efficiency of a gasoline engines, but the car's a closed system; power can't get in or out. It's still not like the way we power, say, our Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) MacBooks or our iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT) Roombas. It might just take an industry outsider like Google to really revolutionize the nation's transportation system.

I can see both great benefits and challenges to tying together our power and transportation systems. On the plus side, electric car owners would never have to drive to the Chevron (NYSE: CVX) station to refuel; in addition, all those parked cars feeding electricity back into the grid during the daytime would help smooth out power delivery during periods of peak demand.

However, such a system would also make our vehicles dependent upon electrical networks that, in some regions, are strained enough at it is. A world running on plug-in hybrids could even compound the damaging effects of blackouts on the economy. If Google's aiming to change the way we use our cars, perhaps they can overhaul the electric grid while they're at it.