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On PEV Sales: Don't Panic...Yet

Willem:

Do you have a link to the Dutch and U.S. studies concerning the increase in GHG emissions at greater than 5% wind penetration?  That is most interesting and, unfortunately, makes some sense.  The law of unintended consequences...

With regard to your points about diesel and related technologies, to steal a line from one of Abraham Lincoln's stories:  You've got the facts right but the conclusions wrong. 

You are absolutely right about the promise of many here-and-now technologies.  You might even add that Detroit is doing great things with gasoline engine efficiency.  It is not widely appreciated, but over the last twenty years, despite huge advances in electrochemical energy storage technology (e.g., the commercialization of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries), improvements in gasoline engine efficiency have largely kept pace, on a percentage basis, with improvements in the efficiency of batteries.

The here-and-now technologies also respond to market price signals and traditional government regulation.  Little is necessary to encourage the migration of consumers to more efficient ICE vehicles other than to tighten CAFE standards and to sit back and watch the price of gasoline rise.  As you correctly point out, the technology is already here; all consumers have to do is buy it.

But the here-and-now technologies also come with a serious limitation.  In the event of a major disruption of petroleum supplies, a 60 mpg hybrid diesel Prius will be every bit as immobile as a Hummer.  Moreover, the failure to diversify away from total reliance on petroleum-based motor fuels leaves the world geopolitical situation just as precarious as it is today, regardless of what percentage of total worldwide petroleum use the U.S. accounts for.

Vehicle electrification is not fully here-and-now.  But it is a critical technology that the government must support, encourage and, yes, subsidize.  Because the principal benefits it brings to consumers are in the form of something other than fuel cost savings, it cannot be promoted by price signals alone.

Electrification and greater petroleum-based fuel efficiency are not alternatives.  They are strategies that must both be pursued and pursued aggressively.

 

April 19, 2011    View Comment    

On PEV Sales: Don't Panic...Yet

Ed:

My longstanding understanding as an auto consumer is that when you buy the first model year of any vehicle, you assume a certain amount of risk.  It would be incredible if there are no problems at all in the first model years of the Volt and the LEAF.  The question is:  How serious and how widespread will those problems be?   I suspect that GM and Nissan both know how highly visible these products are and how reputationally injuring serious or widespread technological problems would be.  My impression, have spent some time talking with both companies, is that they really have put their best and their brightest on these products.  That is a guarantee of nothing, of course.  But we should all cross our fingers hard.  Time will tell.

April 18, 2011    View Comment    

On PEV Sales: Don't Panic...Yet

Ed:

My longstanding understanding as an auto consumer is that when you buy the first model year of any vehicle, you assume a certain amount of risk.  It would be incredible if there are no problems at all in the first model years of the Volt and the LEAF.  The question is:  How serious and how widespread will those problems be?   I suspect that GM and Nissan both know how highly visible these products are and how reputationally injuring serious or widespread technological problems would be.  My impression, have spent some time talking with both companies, is that they really have put their best and their brightest on these products.  That is a guarantee of nothing, of course.  But we should all cross our fingers hard.  Time will tell.

April 18, 2011    View Comment    

On PEV Sales: Don't Panic...Yet

Willem:

I think you are wrong, but I would sleep much better if I knew you were wrong.

April 18, 2011    View Comment    

On PEV Sales: Don't Panic...Yet

Geoffrey:

I fully agree.  My reference to "reducing the upfront price that consumers must pay" is meant not to reference tax credits, but to reference possible ways that a consumer's use of a battery in a PEV might be paid for over time or by use rather than included in the upfront price of the vehicle. 

April 18, 2011    View Comment    

On A Clean Energy Standard Must Address Peak Load Reduction

Maybe pumped hydro is the cheapest form of storage, but maybe not.  If all you are looking at is the cost of the storage itself, pumped hydro is certainly the cheapest (existing pumped hydro projects, that is).  But if you are using storage for peak shaving, the proper question is not what the cost of storage is, but what the cost of storing electricity and transmitting it to consumers at the peak time that consumers want to use it is.  The problem with pumped hydro and other "upstream" storage technologies is that they are generally located far from the ultimate electricity consumer.  As a consequence, not only do you have to build the storage, but you also have to build new transmission and distribution assets that will permit you to wheel that stored power to consumers at peak times.  You also have to pay for the cost of maintaining transmission and distribution assets that are subject to great stress at peak times.  If you load all those costs into upstream storage systems, are they still cheaper than the cost of putting distributed storage systems into buildings and neighborhoods?  It is not clear, but the answer probably varies case by case.

April 9, 2011    View Comment    

On A Clean Energy Standard Must Address Peak Load Reduction

Not if combined with a CES.   A CES expresses a ratio, with clean energy generation being the numerator and total electricity generation being the denominator.  An energy efficiency/peak reduction mechanism reduces the denominator.  A general energy efficiency portfolio standard does the same thing, but by focusing on peak, rather than general, electricity usage, an energy efficiency standard can better reduce the need for electricity infrastructure (transmission and distribution as well as generation).  This is one of the principal environmental benefits of energy storage.

April 9, 2011    View Comment    

On Electrify, Baby, Electrify

Ed:

Interesting point.  As Geoffrey Moore recognized in "Crossing the Chasm", the high tech world is littered with good, and in some cases revolutionary, new technologies that died because they could not find acceptance in the mass consumer market.  I share your concern that the first generation electric vehicles will not satisfy consumer needs and will be commercial failures.  And if we were only talking about a new search engine or video console, the world would not be appreciably worse for their failure.  But when you are talking about vehicle electrification, which will take years and billions of dollars to develop and deploy, and which will be needed at some indeterminate time in the future to stave off economic catastrophe brought on by a nearly inevitable oil shock, I am not sure that we have the luxury of waiting till we need them to start developing and deploying electric vehicles.

April 4, 2011    View Comment    

On Electrify, Baby, Electrify

Geoffrey:

Clearly, God should have consulted with the Congressional Research Service before deciding where to put the oil. :-)   I would claim no expertise in geology, but I have seen the 2% of total worldwide reserves figure cited often, and I would be surprised if it was far off.  That said, I would acknowledge that our ability to discover and exploit petroleum reserves has a history of surprising to the positive--though so does our ability to consume them.  More expert persons than me have long recognized that we are with respect to petroleum on an unsustainable course.  No one knows when the music will stop (any more than anyone really knew when the real estate bubble would burst), but your implicit estimate of decades is probably optimistic.

April 4, 2011    View Comment    

On Rethinking Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards

Willem:

These are great points.  But they would be greater if electricity was the only source of energy we used.  Unfortunately, electric energy only constitutes about 40.1% of total energy consumption in the United States.  So it is no victory if greater efficiency in electricity usage drives consumption into other, less desireable forms of energy--such as petroleum.

March 5, 2011    View Comment    

On Rethinking Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards

Alan:

The UCS has done great work and I applaud you for your efforts.  However, I do not think that renewables and efficiency necessarily go hand in glove.  As I wrote in response to another comment, if you meet an efficiency goal by closing down a PV project, raising the price of electricity and discouraging consumers from switching to vehicles powered by electric fuel, it does not seem that you are doing much good.  How we use energy is more important than the amount of energy we use.  The United States would be better off if we could trade every one btu produced by petroluem for two btu's produced by clean forms of electricity (and hopefully we can do a lot better than a 1 to 2 ratio).

I am not surprised by the comments that my article generated from people who have clearly been in the trenches of the environmental wars for some time.  I cringed a bit when I hit "Publish".  But I think that vehicle electrification requires us to question some accepted wisdoms that have been around for a while.  The social efficacy of energy efficiency portfolio standards--at least as they are written today--is one of these accepted wisdoms that needs scrutiny.

March 5, 2011    View Comment    

On Rethinking Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards

Geoffrey:

I do not mean to suggest that we are burning significant amounts of petroleum to produce electricity (1% is about right).  But we are burning plenty of petroleum to power our transportation infrastructure.  In fact, petroleum accounts for about 40% of all energy consumption in the United States today.   I am concerned that in assessing social impact the forms in which we generate and consume energy may matter a great deal more than the absolute quantity of energy we consume.

With regard to your second point, I would certainly agree that energy efficiency initiatives reduce emissions.  But they do so only indirectly, and possibly not at all.  If SCE meets a 1% energy efficiency improvement target by shutting down a solar PV farm and raising electricity rates on electricity consumers, it is not at all clear to me that we have moved the ball forward very much.

With regard to how we power electric vehicles, I am not suggesting that all PEV's will be powered by renewably generated electricity.  While that would be nice, that is not the way the world works now or will work anytime soon.  But there is still considerable social advantage to moving away from fuels that are subject to catastrophic supply disruption and towards others, whether they be renewables, clean (depending upon your definition of that term, nuclear, hydro and natural gas) or not so clean, that are not.  Policies that uniformly increase the price or restrict the availability of electricity are counterproductive to that end.

March 5, 2011    View Comment