The greening of the transportation sector is rife with conflict. Frequent debates occur over the benefits and disadvantages of several emerging technologies. Which has better energy-efficiency? Hydrogen or battery electric? Which is more feasible in the short-run? Plug-in hybrids or biodiesel? Which is more eco-friendly? Hybrids or compressed natural gas? The answers to these questions depend on who one asks. Interest groups, auto and oil giants, entrepreneurs, and consumer-activists all offer varying opinions on how we can best meet the climate challenge through the adoption of new vehicle technologies.
A new book, Plugged In: The End of the Oil Age, provides what I have found to be the most comprehensive, well-researched, succinct, and up-to-date source yet on the topic. Published by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and authored by Dr. Gary Kendall, a former petroleum industry scientist, the book is available for free and downloadable from this site.
Plugged In was given to me at last week’s GreenWest Expo by Felix Kramer, Founder of CalCars (an advocacy group for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles). I stopped to have coffee with Felix and Ed Kjaer (Director of Electric Transportation at Southern California Edison) before each of them gave their presentations on next-generation plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Our conversation revolved around whether we can expect the major automakers to produce plug-in hybrids in any meaningful numbers in the near future. We also discussed the influence that entrepreneurs play in the development of this technology. Felix’s group and others around the country are busy converting standard Toyota Priuses to plug-ins that average 100 mpg. While they have helped a lucky few spend far less at the pump, their real power lies in the symbolic effect of increasing public awareness and stimulating public policy to drive the industry towards grid-connected vehicles.
And that brings me back to Plugged In. After a thorough (but accessible) review of every major Well-to-Wheel (WTW) analyses of alternative fuels and technologies currently proposed in the field, Kendall states that electric vehicles hold the most immediate potential to deliver on 4 objectives simultaneously: (1) a reduction in CO2 emissions, (2) improvements in energy efficiency, (3) a dramatic increase in air quality, and (4) enhanced energy security. What is especially interesting, however, are the policy recommendations prescribed near the end of the book. Kendall calls for an “integrated approach.” This means “a suite of policies” which are targeted at (i) suppliers of energy (to ensure the greatest mix of renewables on the grid) (ii) manufacturers of vehicles (to incentivize the production of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) and (iii) consumers of vehicles (to stimulate widespread adoption).
Such an approach can go a long way towards cleaning the air, slowing climate change, ending oil wars, and creating green-collar jobs within the industry. Hopefully, this type of discussion will be present at the upcoming conference in D.C., “Plug-In Electric Vehicles 2008: What Role for Washington?” Sponsored by Google’s ReChargeIt initiative, those who are interested can watch the free webcast on June 11 and 12, 2008. A number of U.S. Congress members are scheduled to speak, in addition to e.v. superstar entrepreneurs, like Shai Agassi. Perhaps we may begin to see the development of federal policies necessary for a sustainable transportation paradigm.