Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In the Battle for Hybrid-Electric Vehicles, What's Missing?

A Toyota Prius hybrid rear-ended an electric Tesla Roadster in Denmark several days ago, pushing it underneath a Volkswagen Touareg and highlighting the ongoing feud between these coveted vehicles (read the full report of the accident here).

In all seriousness though, with these energy-efficient automobiles engineers and designers are achieving two very important goals: 1. providing a vehicle that produces little or no carbon dioxide emissions (transportation-related CO2 accounts for roughly 25-30 percent of all emissions in the US) and 2. maintaining the freedom and independence inherent in personalized transportation.

As manufacturers continue to recognize the value of hybrid-electric vehicles, the transition from automobiles powered by fossil fuels to those powered by electrons will accelerate. But we need extensive infrastructure improvements to support this shift. Some states, California especially, have invested large sums of money in projects which promote electric vehicles. But when I refer to the need for infrastructure, I am not just thinking about roadside recharging stations. I am talking about something much more complex: the way we produce our electricity. What's the use in shifting from autos running on gasoline to autos running on electricity if that electricity is produced by a coal-fired power plant? Point source and not just tailpipe emissions must be factored into this equation.

If we are to succeed in this endeavor, we're going to need some help from the big dogs...

Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden attended the opening of the new Fisker Automotive plant in Wilmington, Delaware (previously owned by GM), touting the benefits of electric vehicles. The same morning, President Barack Obama announced a $3.4 billion investment plan for the ailing US energy grid at the unveiling of Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, the largest photovoltaic facility in the country (pictured above). Watch the full speech below or read a detailed synopsis from here:

The beauty of the dream for a safe and secure renewable energy future is the amount of technological innovation and collaboration it will take to make it happen. We are becoming more and more aware that we have the technology we need to succeed and it is now up to our leaders to step up to the plate and implement policies which incentivize sustainable development. Some have already - Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act is currently under review in the Senate - but this is just the tip of the policy iceberg and there is much more work to be done. There are tremendous political obstacles to overcome (see here, here, and here).

One closing thought: If Rush Limbaugh can go gaga over low-emissions vehicles (in this case, the electric Ford Focus), we all can. Enjoy:

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