Sunday Morning Video (Kramer) + Op-Ed (Marshall/Agnew)
- You can get your Sunday energy brunch, or your
Independence Day Week call to action, from two updates on PHEVs:
* Six-and-a-half minute video from
HippyGourmet.com (their media on food and
sustainability issues are seen on PBS stations
and online). Filmed with Felix Kramer on June 26,
it gives a current snapshot of our thinking and
link also available from <http://www.calcars.org/audio-video.html>
* A guest column from the Seattle Times
summarizes the main impulses driving PHEVs
forward. Co-authors Steve Marshall and Bruce
Agnew have written some of the most persuasive
briefs for PHEVs (see CalCars-News Archive). At
this Spring's Cascadia conference, Marshall was
publicly praised as one of the key moving forces
behind the Presidential Executive Order on PHEVs.
Now he's working to make it effective, while also
working on the legislative side in Washington, DC.
(Feel free to forward them!)
Guest columnists, Seattle Times, July 3, 2007
Jump-start a secure, clean energy future with plug-in hybrid vehicles
By Steve Marshall and Bruce Agnew
It was a classic "American Graffiti" moment. A
Corvette had stopped at the light next to Martin
Eberhard's new Tesla Roadster. The Corvette
driver wanted a race. Jim Woolsey, former CIA
director in the Clinton administration, was at
the wheel of the Tesla, taking a test drive. He
asked Eberhard, Tesla Motors' CEO, what to do,
and got the answer he wanted. "Take him," said Eberhard.
When the light turned green, Woolsey floored it.
With a near-silent whoosh, the all-electric
Tesla, capable of going from zero to 60 in four
seconds, left the Corvette driver with one
question when he caught up at the next light:
"What is that?" Woolsey, focused on the
national-security risk from our increasing
dependence on imported oil, sees the
all-electric, rechargeable Tesla as part of a
future that replaces oil with electricity and
biofuels. Such a shift would also lead to
dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
That future also includes plug-in hybrid electric
vehicles (PHEVs), which Toyota, General Motors,
Ford and others say they will soon produce. A
regular gas-electric hybrid, such as the Prius,
can get up to 50 miles per gallon. A PHEV, with a
larger battery that can be recharged at night,
will get over 100 mpg. And if gasoline in a PHEV
is supplemented with Northwest biodiesel, the
miles per gasoline gallon jump even higher.
Earlier this year, the Brookings Institution
reported: "To reduce oil dependence, nothing
would do more good more quickly than making cars
that could connect to the electric grid." Add an
extension cord and the infrastructure is already
in place for PHEVs. In most states there is
significant unused generating capacity to
recharge cars overnight. Electric utilities could
become the gas stations of the future.
Overcoming technical and consumer barriers
Three main reasons are given for why this future
is not here now. The first is battery cost and
performance. But, batteries have improved
markedly, evolving from lead acid to nickel metal
hydride used in the Prius, and now to advanced
lithium-ion batteries. Two manufacturers just
announced major improvements in lithium-ion
technologies designed specifically for plug-in hybrid vehicles.
The second factor is consumer acceptance. Will
the car-buying public trade size and performance
for energy independence and the environment?
Although the Prius is the top-selling car in the
Northwest, skeptics say families who need larger
vehicles or drivers who want size for safety and
horsepower for speed won't buy PHEVs.
This is what makes the Tesla so interesting.
According to Tesla's Eberhard, "It's about
proving that plug-in technology can work, that
electric cars do not have to be frumpy and dull."
Americans may soon be able to have size and
speed, and still be green. The Tesla costs over
$90,000. But, as Eberhard told a U.S. Senate
committee, "Almost any new technology has high
cost before it can be optimized, and this is no
less true for electric cars." Tesla plans a
family car for $50,000 in 2009, followed by a
third model that "will be more affordable still," according to Eberhard.
Professor Andy Frank, the "father of plug-in
vehicles," turned a GM Suburban into a plug-in
hybrid that travels 60 miles on a charge and
accelerates up hills like they are not even
there. GM will make a hybrid Tahoe this year that
improves gas mileage by 25 percent. A plug-in
version could save families even more.
Washington, D.C., inertia
The third major reason the future is not here yet
is inertia in Washington, D.C. There is strong
bipartisan recognition that addiction to oil is
undermining national security, increasing our
trade deficit and adding greenhouse gases. Each
week brings new reminders of the security risk
from our reliance on oil from civil unrest in
oil-rich Nigeria to threats from Venezuela's Hugo
Chávez and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And, as
Woolsey points out, since most of the world's oil
comes from the Middle East, we are financing both
sides of the war on terror at the gas pump.
World demand for oil is increasing, largely due
to China, India and other emerging economies.
With oil supplies lagging, the world price of oil
has skyrocketed. Four years ago, oil was $25 a
barrel; it is now over $60. If we're serious
about reducing greenhouse gases, the single best
place to start is to stop burning oil in our vehicles.
During the 1973 Arab oil embargo, sharp discord
characterized the debate over the Alaska pipeline
construction between environmentalists and
national-security conservatives like Sen. Henry
"Scoop" Jackson. By contrast, today's "end our
addiction to oil" coalition includes what Woolsey
affectionately calls "tree huggers, do-gooders, sodbusters and cheap hawks."
But, despite the broad consensus and statements
of urgency, much needs to be done.
We need immediate action in three areas to
accelerate and integrate new transportation
technology: federal and state agency fleet
purchases to create a dependable market and to
drive costs down; regional demonstration projects
to work out how to make the power grid and our
transportation system more efficient; and,
legislation to remove roadblocks and create
incentives. In short, we need to jump-start to a clean, secure energy future.
Federal and state agency fleet purchases
Federal and state governments are some of the
biggest markets for vehicles, and their
purchasing power can help jump-start PHEVs. King
County Executive Ron Sims used Metro bus-buying
power to start GM on a path to produce hybrid
buses. Similarly, replacement vehicles for
federal and state agency fleets could be the best
way to kick off PHEV sales, providing a stable
and reliable initial market that would start to drive costs down.
On Jan. 24, President Bush issued an executive
order that requires federal agencies to purchase
plug-in vehicles "when commercially available"
and with comparable life-cycle costs to standard
vehicles. But, the best way to ensure these
vehicles are commercially available in the first
place is to start with federal fleet orders,
which will drive down costs. The Boeing 707 was
launched with the first order from the federal
government. Commercial sales soon took off and
Boeing went on to dominate the jet age.
Another strategy is to define the life-cycle
costs to include a concept that Jon Wellinghoff,
a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, has called the "cash-back hybrid." By
intelligently connecting federal fleet vehicles
when parked, plug-in hybrids can supply backup
services, including voltage support and peak
power, to the power system. The "cash-back"
payments could help make PHEVs less expensive overall than standard vehicles.
Congress and the administration can put federal
buying power into high gear to send the same
signal as Metro bus hybrid orders sent to GM:
Make these vehicles now; there are buyers for them.
Regional demonstration projects
Exactly how would plug-ins be recharged? How can
utilities avoid new peak demands? Should drivers
plug in at work or at park-and-rides? How would a
"cash-back hybrid" really work? Can the existing
transportation system be improved with the
technology inherent in PHEVs? Could traffic
congestion relief be part of a PHEV rollout?
These questions and others need to be addressed
sooner rather than later. Regional demonstration
projects can provide answers and formulate
standards to make the best of this new technology.
The Northwest is well-suited for a regional pilot
project. New state legislation provides some
funds for a plug-in project that could help
leverage federal funding from FERC and the U.S.
Departments of Energy and Transportation. The
Northwest has two Department of Energy national
research laboratories and a history of
cooperation on energy issues. Energy Northwest's
board, representing over 20 utilities,
unanimously supports a Northwest pilot project.
There is strong regional political leadership.
Creating incentives and removing barriers through legislation
Some predict that Congress will do little more
than protect the corn-ethanol lobby, the
coal-fuel lobby and Detroit. Pending legislation
to increase gas mileage has loopholes big enough
for a diesel truck. Gal Luft, who spoke at the
Cascadia Conference at Microsoft in May, recently
said: "The only green that they are serious about
in Congress right now is the one with Ben Franklin's picture on it."
But there is a chance that effective legislation
could pass this year. A broad bipartisan
congressional coalition is pressing to add ideas
from the DRIVE Act (Dependence Reduction through
Innovations in Vehicles and Energy). Sen. Maria
Cantwell, D-Wash., is working to include electric
transportation and plug-in hybrid pilot projects
and to identify and remove barriers. U.S. Reps.
Jay Inlsee, D-Bainbridge Island, and Dave
Reichert, R-Auburn, have joined on a bill that
would provide for regional plug-in hybrid
demonstration projects, intending one in the Northwest.
At the Cascadia-Microsoft conference, Cantwell
and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said they're
working with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., on
legislation with incentives for consumers,
automakers and utilities to accelerate the day
when plug-in hybrid vehicles would roll into auto
showrooms. There are encouraging signs that the
administration and Congress will make such
legislation a bipartisan priority. It cannot happen soon enough.
We need the acceleration now of a Tesla in
Washington, D.C. We have the opportunity. As Eberhard would say: Take it.
Steve Marshall is a senior fellow at Discovery
Institute's Cascadia Center, which works on
regional transportation solutions. Bruce Agnew is
the center's director. Visit www.cascadiaproject.org
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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