Toyota gives in to plug-in hybrid pressure

Toyota’s previous comments with respect to the whole plug-in hybrid movement have bordered on hostile. The company, no surprise, has tried to downplay the potential by pointing to technical challenges, criticizing Prius hackers, and claiming that car owners don’t want to be burdened with having to plug their car into an electrical socket. But public pressure seems to have Toyota singing a different tune these days, making it the latest (and arguably most important) big car manufacturer to reveal that, yes, it’s working on plug-in hybrids behind the scenes. Perhaps it’s because George W. Bush himself is a supporter of the plug-in hybrid concept, or the fact that U.S. legislators seem intent on driving more funding toward the plug-in hybrid and flex-fuel options. It might also be because Ford and Daimler Chrysler are getting behind the plug-in concept and Toyota doesn’t want to lose its edge in the U.S. market.

On June 13 Toyota issued this release outlining its improved efforts to create environmentally sound and sustainable vehicles. Among a list of impressive initiatives under way, Toyoto Motor Corp. (TMC) made the following statement: “TMC will advance its research and development of plug-in hybrid vehicles (which can be charged from an external power source and provide electricity) and is currently working on a next-generation vehicle that can extend the distance traveled by the electric motor alone and that is expected to have a significant effect on reducing C02 and helping to abate atmospheric pollution.”

Whether this is open acknowledgement of a serious R&D program that will lead to commercialization of plug-in hybrids, or simply a marketing stunt to appease the plug-in hybrid movement, who knows…  I think Toyota, like other car manufacturers, realize that some huge advancements in battery technology are just around the corner and could soon unlock the potential of plug-in hybrids and EVs in general.

East Gwillimbury: taking the lead on energy efficiency

My Clean Break column in today’s Toronto Star takes a closer look at the decision by the town of East Gwillimbury — with a population of 22,000 about 30 minutes north of Toronto — to mandate that all new home developments in the area comply with Energy Star standards for building construction. The town, which grew tired of waiting for improvements to the province’s outdated building code, is believed to be the first in Canada to require Energy Star in home construction. Hopefully by becoming a first mover other communities in Ontario and across Canada will follow closely in East Gwillimbury’s path. Town mayor James Young says he’s already received numerous calls from other municipalities, including Toronto, that appear interested in the program. This is the kind of leadership this province needs, and it reinforces the fact that municipalities that are creative enough with policy design have a lot of power to influence change when it comes to energy conservation/efficiency. Kudos to Young and his council for taking the plunge.

In the column, I also make reference to a February study from the U.S. National Association of Home Builders, and a new contest launched by Canada Mortage and Housing Corporation called “Net Zero Energy Healthy Housing.” Both show the growing interest in homes becoming net producers, rather than net consumers, of energy. I see no reason why within the next 10 years every new home that’s built isn’t an energy generator.

Sonic lands PCB cleanup deal in Toronto

Sonic Environmental reports today it has entered into a PCB clean-up contract with the owner of a site in the Greater Toronto Area. The company would not disclose the name of the site owner or the terms of the contract, but said the job involves remediation of a minimum of 500 tonnes and “potentially up to 2,500 tonnes” of contaminated soil. The company said the work is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2006. “This project is a major milestone for Sonic as it’s a first in Eastern Canada following the company’s recent approvals here in Ontario,” said Sonic VP of remediation services Larry Rodricks. “This contract should be the trigger that Sonic has been waiting for in order to secure future projects.” On top of the potential for soil remediation at more brownfield sites in Ontario, this deal also adds credibility to Sonic’s technology as it pitches for clean-up work in the Sydney tar ponds.