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On Why You Don't Want an Electric Car... Yet

I agree, that costs are the most important barrier to adoption. Consumers often decide first among price, but performance characteristics do play a role.  Consumers aren't just picking the cheapest gasoline car - many are picking mid-range priced vehicles to gain some performance advantages as well.

But your point is well taken - cost of ownership is significant.  In fact, this is a major area of discussion in the report.  But we may get the performance benefits as costs go down.  To get batteries down will take some significant tech advancements that require different chemistries other than lithium.  Take Envia, for example, which is offering a roughly $300-$350/kWh battery (estimated if it scales), that is lighter, offers more range, etc. etc. So the battery breakthroughs often offer both because cost reductions to the levels you and I are talking about won't come just from tinkering with existing technologies.

October 15, 2012    View Comment    

On Why You Don't Want an Electric Car... Yet

Yes, you're correct that if we built out an EV transporation system we would still be sourcing its electricity at least partially from fossil fuels (depending on the state), which limits its climate change impacts.  

But numerous assessments have shown that the amount of fossil fuels burned to charge an EV is less than the amount of fossil fuels burned to fuel a gas car.  Depending on the state, I've seen estimates of emission cuts ranging from 20-50% if we switched to EVs without any change in electricity generation.  So there are benefits, often times significant.

With that said, we still need to transform the US electricity generation system to clean energy as well to get as close to zero emissions as possible.  But that point holds for any and all transportation options, clean energy or otherwise, not just EVs.

October 15, 2012    View Comment    

On Why You Don't Want an Electric Car... Yet

Nathan - 

I don't think I'm saying they're inevitable, but instead saying that for them to be competitive and widespread deployable these technological innovations are necessary.  To counter your point - EV's are not a mature technology.  Now to be specific, the current batteries used in EVs like the Volt are older technology, but that's largely because the next-generation batteries are still in the early stages of development.  It's these next-generation batteries, which are significant leaps in advancement, that hold promise so my point is to double down on these efforts. Children of the computer age or not, tech advancements are tech advancements. The Space Shuttle and Concord are apples to oranges comparisons here.

With that said, there are a number of low-carbon transportation technologies - EVs are but on, but also one seemingly closer to realization (or at least to a stage where the barriers to competitiveness are well known). Please see the report for some short discussion on other options. We didn't look specifically at ammonia, but I would agee its an interesting choice.  Unfortuantely, DOE (in the hydrogen R&D years) speficially looked at fuel cells instead of a broader range of technologies.  Are states like California looking into this?

October 15, 2012    View Comment    

On Natural Gas: Is It Stunting Innovative Thinking?

Christine - 

A couple of points for further discussion.

1 - You correctly list all of the drawbacks of building out natural gas.  It's surely not the long-term solution.  But another way to look at it is why it's being built out over renewables + nuclear and to figure out ways of limiting those particular drawbacks.  For instance, at least today and in the near/mid-term future, natural gas is the least cost, highest performance energy option. In other words, LNG is cheaper than coal and offers similar performance to using coal.  It's infrastructure exists and is well understood, so that expanding it isn't very risky (or at least no riskier than what the industry is used to).  So can today's renewables offer the same benefits? If not, how can we get renewbles that do? 

2 - What kind of infrastructure do you foresee necessary to enable 80%+ renewable penetration in the U.S.? Smart grid is being built out, albeit slowly, so how do we accelerate that? EV charging infrastucture comes down to cost. The best charging stations are very expensive, so what's needed technoloigically to bring those costs down?

Matthew Stepp

Senior Analyst, ITIF

October 1, 2012    View Comment    

On Drawing the Right Conclusions from the Problems at A123

Jim - 

Business failures aside, I wonder if the governement support for near-term tech vs. long-term development is more prominent an issue here than you discuss. The major issue, it seems, is whether we want to accelerate the development and deployment of batteries that have future cost and performance competitiveness potential or those that don't.  It seems like in some cases - maybe even A123 - we supported those that don't to gain short-term economic benefits. So it's failure - or in this case financial trouble - is directly linked to that.  In the case of A123, other government grants tried to build market support for the batteries (i.e. Fisker, Volt, etc.), but that support, because of vehicle costs largely due to high-battery costs, hasn't flourished into a robust market.

On the other hand, the next-gen batteries in development offer the potential for cheaper electric vehicles with better performance - which by itself would create a bigger market. In every discussion and presentation I see or am a part of, the future of electric vehicles isn't going to reside in current-gen batteries - even those currently produced by A123. It's going to be in those 2nd, 3rd, or 4th-gen variants being developed at the Innovation Hub, through ARPA-E grants, and even at Universities and Fed labs. Grants to more 1st-gen EV batteries may be expanding some supply chains and helping spur some incremental innovations, but it's surely not enough to accelerate industry development.  Those grants would be better spent down the line one tech options that hold better promise of competitiveness.

Matthew Stepp

Senior Analyst, ITIF

 

May 22, 2012    View Comment    

On Clean Tech Headed for Stagnation

Partnerships and limited deployment incentives that drive innovation are what the energy innovation community is working on as we speak.  Hopefully this discussion becomes louder and permeates into the halls of Congress in the coming months and years.

MS

May 16, 2012    View Comment    

On Clean Tech Headed for Stagnation

Jim, agreed if we can get the tech to work on a global scale (as with all clean tech).  The quadrant example was more to point out that the longer we have to wait for a global clean tech scale-up the worse off we are. So if we can scale-up ocean thermal tech in the next year and it sequesters as much CO2 as you say, then great, we don't have to do any adaptation or geoengineering.  But if it takes 20 years, even if it sequesters carbon, then we have to do other things.  And my sense is that the sequester potential of this tech isn't well understood yet, but would like to learn more about it.

MS

May 16, 2012    View Comment    

On Clean Tech Headed for Stagnation

Rick (and Jim)

It seems worthwhile to view our response to climate change on a quadrant scale (simple x-y axis).

On the negative-end of the x-axis we have mitigation, which is to drastically reduce carbon emissions so as to halt the addition of more emissions to the atmosphere which by property bake in a certain amount of warming for the following 100 years.  On the positive-end of the x-axis we have geoengineering, which is to either directly reduce global temperatures through technology or directly suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.  And on the y-axis we have adaptation which is to not focus on reducing emissions but instead built resilience in our social, economic, and infrastructure systems for the warming to come. On the positive-end we have aggressive adaptation and the negative-end we have no adaptation.

Where are we on this scale?  40 years ago, probably in quadrant 4 - mitigation paired with no adaptation.  We had time to develop the tech (but we chose not to).  10 years ago probably more in quadrant 1 - mitigation paired with modest adaptation.  

Where do you think we are today? (I know, a long winded exercise)

Rick asked about sequestering the carbon already in the atmosphere, so he must think we are somewhere in quadrant 2 - mitigation, but with more geoengineering paired with some level of adaptation.  Jim, maybe still in quadrant 1.

In other words, do we need to be worrying about sequestration (which we roughly already know how to do, but don't know how to suck it out of the atmosphere)?

 

MS

May 15, 2012    View Comment    

On Clean Tech Headed for Stagnation

HannahSolar -

I very much agree with the notion of cutting fossil fuel subsidies. In fact, I’ve proposed cutting fossil fuel subsidies to pay for increased federal investment in clean tech innovation programs like R&D.  A couple of additional thoughts on this to ponder (and issues that the clean tech advocacy should ponder as well):

  1. Cutting fossil fuel subsidies isn’t a panacea for transitioning from dirty to clean. Depending on the source, fossil gets in the $4-10B per year (your source, IER, says ~$7B) in subsidies on a profit in the $100’s of billions.  At most, cutting the subsidies would trickle down to consumers as a couple of cent increase in energy prices if at all.  One could argue that because most of the subsidies are for the manufacture and production of oil or coal or gas, it could reduce domestic supply, and increase prices more which would help clean tech.  But because oil is a commodity market, is at such consistently high prices, and the incentives are relatively small (comparatively to the price of oil), it seems to me it would still have only a small impact. Think of it another way, we probably pay more in the federal gas tax than we would if fossil subsidies were eliminated. Simply put, fossil is really cheap even without subsidies. 

  2. Rising fossil prices have less impact on clean tech adoption than you think. For example, many countries in Europe pay $7-$10/gallon gasoline but few if any electric cars on the road.  Those prices (tied with steep penalties for buying gas guzzlers) does lead to consumers buying smaller cars or more efficient vehicles, it doesn’t transition to electric vehicles (or a low-carbon alternative, which we need, given climate challenges). So a few cents added because of subsidy elimination still won’t make the Volt look any cheaper.  And the same goes for coal power, especially with cheap natural gas, because the wind and solar alternatives are still very expensive unless heavily subsidized themselves even against.

  3. It’s not necessarily about how much subsidy fossil gets annually, it’s about how much they’ve received over a century.  Oil and coal and gas have received 100+ years of gov largesse and support that has ‘baked’ them into the system vs. 40 years of off-and-on clean energy support.  As such, some level of gov support will be needed in clean tech to scale new alternative to market to overcome these entrenched industries, like we did for fossil. So regardless of whether we eliminate them, the 'playing field' isn't necessarily level.

Matthew Stepp

Senior Analyst, ITIF

May 15, 2012    View Comment    

On Clean Tech Headed for Stagnation

Rajat - 

I think you're very much right.  A key example is Solyndra.  We guaranteed a $500 million investment, which is twice the budget of ARPA-E which is making dozens and dozens of investments in high-risk, high-potential tech ideas.  I think at this stage of the game we would be better off putting more emphasis on R&D, ARPA-E type investments to create tech pathways to affordability and subsidy independence.

With that said, there is a desperate need for a rethink on what to do once a technology moves beyond the pilot-scale.  The commercialization valley-of-death is very real in the energy space because of the billions of dollars in investments needed to scale to the commercial market, reduce risk to investors, etc and the fed gov has a role to play here, but the question is what that role looks like.  I think this is where your call for partnerships could be key in rethinking through some of the traditional policy responses to this, like LGP's, and figure out a better way to support the scale-up of innovative tech. But a discussion on what to do about scale-up expands to a broader discussion on how to link all this great fed R&D going on to commercial scale (which we do a terrible job at doing).

 

Matthew Stepp

Senior Analyst, ITIF

May 15, 2012    View Comment    

On Should we be techno-optimists about climate change?

David - 

 

Thanks for your thoughts.  I think the typical time it takes for next-gen energy technologies to reach materiality and widespread deployment is important.  It should give pause because at its core addressing our energy challenges require new clean energy technologies.  So if we're to address those problems in the relatively short (and getting shorter) amount of time left, we need to look at the innovation lifecycle and figure out ways of accelerating that lifecycle.  In some ways, we get that (Innovation Hubs, SunShot, ARPA-E) and in other ways our policies don't reflect it.

Matthew Stepp

Senior Policy Analyst

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

March 9, 2012    View Comment    

On SMR developers are racing to the market

Dan -

My understanding was that the cuts to the advanced nuclear R&D programs were "soft" in that there is some carryover funds that will make up for a small part of the difference, and much of last years SMR R&D budget was used for R&D in the permitting/siting process in the lead up to liscensing.  The latter work apparently finishing up so no need for those funds.  It's not clear that core advanced R&D projects are being cut.

At least that was my read of the budget proposal.  Any thoughts?

Matthew Stepp

Senior Policy Analyst

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

February 23, 2012    View Comment