Saturday, May 22, 2010

"plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles", Presidential Memorandum on Fuel Efficiency Standards

Last Thursday, May 21st, 2010, President Obama announced a continuation of fuel efficiency policy for Americas autos.

As advocates for mass transit will point out, there is a likely decline liquid fuels. As with most predictions, the oil industry should be having a going out of business sale. They probably should, but for other reasons. #1 is our hot planet, #2 is that the people with oil control much of our economic and foriegn policy decisions, #3 the demand from emerging markets for oil will drive the price up.

Where the light rail folks sometime miss the bus is seeing that mobility can not be completely solved by light rail, but the secondary goals can be solved by right sized modes of transportation for a given situation. The light rail vs car is more than the tailpipe. It is not to the exclusion of either, and this is where advocates sometimes fall down.

We need light rail, in the right places, right now, but that is not everywhere, and in some locations it is never.
I have not seen a single light rail proposal that would serve my part of Seattle. No trolley, no street car, but we have the same bus that takes enough people close enough to where they need to go to make that transportation mode viable. Still, my part of Seattle has an unusual amount of cars, sometimes two or three per household, interspersed with the few homes without any cars that are served by the limited mass transit within walking distance.

There are no plans to change this within the next 25 years in many neighborhoods. The Transportation 2040 vision of transportation published on May 20th makes this clear.

The question becomes: what do we do about the tailpipe since there are no meaningful policy plans to supplant them?
25 years is about two car lifetimes for cheap people like me.

Our last family car was a minivan that got 18 mpg, and my commuter car got 26 mpg. Three years later the family car gets 50, and my commuter gets 33. Both vehicles pollute far less.
By the time the Transportation 2040 plan has mass transit as a practical solution for my commute I will be retired, and likely buy another commuter car between now and then.

Here I would like to make a point that is lost on some people, they choice to buy that next car for me, and many other people has to do with the viable optionat the time of the next purchase. Once I have sunk costs into that mode, driving, I am going to resist being taxed to pay for another mode at the same time. I only want to pay for one mode at a time, when possible. I only want to pay for the mode that is practical. I am no different then the person that lives near a light rail station and commutes to work downtown Seattle via light rail.
Same city, same reasons for supporting/resisting transportation modes.

The American car market is a replacement market, but the population will grow. The Transportation 2040 tries to anticipate where the density will be and how it's mobility can best be served of mitigated.

The reasonable solution is to find a way to support the right sized modes in appropriate places not to the absolute exclusion of recognizing the other. Sadly, those with a vested interest in upzones on one side, and the sprawl builders on the other are not paid to compromise, and find a middle way that moves us all forward.

What are the common goals? Well, I think the 1, 2, 3 items listed above should drive policy. So, it is with great interest that I read President Obama's speech from May 21st, 2010. Below are a few paragraphs that should help.
And over the next five years, we expect fuel efficiency standards in cars and light trucks to reach an average of 35.5 miles per gallon. 
As a result, everybody wins.  The typical driver will save roughly $3,000 over the life of the vehicle.  We’ll reduce our dependence on oil by 1.8 billion barrels and cut nearly a billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions.  This is the equivalent of taking 50 million cars off the road -– lowering pollution while making our economy more secure.  And by setting a single standard in place, rather than a tangle of overlapping and uncertain rules, auto companies will have the clear incentive to develop more efficient vehicles.  This, in turn, will foster innovation and growth in a host of new industries.

So that’s what we set in motion one year ago.  And today, we’re going even further, proposing the development of a national standard for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, just as we did for cars and light trucks.  In a few moments, I’m going to sign a presidential memorandum, coordinated by my chief energy advisor, Carol Browner.  It directs my administration, under the leadership of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, to develop a standard to improve fuel efficiency and reduce harmful emissions for trucks, starting with the model year 2014. 
. . .
This is going to bring down the costs for transportating -- for transporting goods, serving businesses and consumers alike.  It will reduce pollution, given that freight vehicles produce roughly one fifth of the greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation.  We estimate, for example, that we can increase fuel economy by as much as 25 percent in tractor trailers using technologies that already exist today.  And, just like the rule concerning cars, this standard will spur growth in the clean energy sector.

We know how important that is.  We know that our dependence on foreign oil endangers our security and our economy.  We know that climate change poses a threat to our way of life -– in fact we’re already seeing some of the profound and costly impacts.  And the disaster in the Gulf only underscores that even as we pursue domestic production to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies.
. . .
And that’s why, when we fashioned the Recovery Act to get our economy moving again, we emphasized clean energy.  Today, we’re supporting the development of advanced battery technologies.  We’re doubling the capacity to generate renewable electricity.  We’re building a stronger, smarter electric grid, which will be essential to powering the millions of plug-in hybrids -- cars and trucks that we hope to see on the roads.  It’s estimated that through these investments, we’ll create or save more than 700,000 jobs.  And these investments will help businesses develop new technologies that vehicle makers can use to meet higher fuel efficiency standards.

In addition, the standard we set last year for cars and light trucks runs through 2016.  I’m proposing we start developing right now a new and higher standard to take effect beginning 2017, so that we can make more and more progress in the years to come.

Through the directive I’m signing, we’re also going to work with public and private sectors to develop the advanced infrastructure that will be necessary for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.  And we’re going to continue to work to diversify our fuel mix, including biofuels, natural gas, and other cleaner sources of energy.  I believe that it’s possible, in the next 20 years, for vehicles to use half the fuel and produce half the pollution that they do today.  But that’s only going to happen if we are willing to do what’s necessary for the sake of our economy, our security, and our environment.
. . .
[read the full speech linked here]Presidential Memorandum on Fuel Efficiency Standards

Or, watch the video here:

The reduction of oil consumption should not shift that burden to the electric grid. Efficiency does not start and end with transportation, or the garage.
Another area the government could help is providing ways to make home energy generation, wind and solar, cheaper. It looks like every time one of these systems is put on a home the local government acts as if it is the first time they have ever seen it.
But that is another story for another day.