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How to claim the energy battleground

by Jerome a Paris Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 10:48:29 AM EST

The Democrats have lots of good ideas on energy and climate change - and lots of good people pushing them. We all now about Jerry McNerney's big upset against Pombo. Harry Reid has put up a website called Energy Independence 2020. Most recently, Bill Richardson signed an executive order to cut greenhouse gas emissions in NM.

Despite all this, I worry that energy policy will end up being captured by the right, because they still hold on to a major asset: their closeness to the corporate world, and, more to the point, the perception by the business world that they are more friendly to them, and thus that they are more likely to bring about less painful (for the corporations) energy plans.

Until not so long ago, this was not such a problem, because the debate was (to simplify) between big industry and the greens, and the sides and the parties were easy to identify. The main area of dispute was whether to focus on industry as polluter or as provider of jobs.

But now, two things have changed:

  • renewable energy has suddenly become a pretty big industrial sector, and has attracted a lot of investment money: it's good business, it's good jobs, and it's a nice prospect for significant growth and activity in often neglected areas (rural areas, the rust belt);
  • energy is becoming a national security issue, for very obvious reasons - global warming becoming unescapable, increasing gas prices, the war in Iraq, the beginning of a public debate on peak oil.

The terms of the debate are suddenly shifting. The first item creates a golden opportunity for the Democrats to reconcile the two main constituencies on energy: the environmentally minded, worried about pollution, warming, and waste of energy, and the workers, that worry about job losses in traditional industries (notably those linked to the oil sector). If renewable energy can create lots of jobs (and it can) while helping to solve the energy crisis, it's an obvious win-win. But the second change brings in a topic, national security, which more traditionally belongs to the sphere claimed by the right.

This creates an opportunity for both sides: for the Democrats to grab the national security mantle by solving energy issues; and for Republicans to turn green by building on their national security credentials. But that does not mean that there is a consensus on what needs to be done - or, if there is, that such consensus is appropriate to solve the problems at hand (more on that below).

That battle is now fully joined, with both sides bringing up their arguments to grab the limelight. But one battlefront is, in my view, neglected to a large extent by the Democrats: that of big business.

This matters, because we know the lobbying power of that group, and its ability to influence policy. While we can hope that such influence will be less under a Democratic Congress, it is silly to expect that it will become negligible. But conversely, if big business can be brought around to support reasonable policies, then it improves the chances of getting good policies enacted - and of bringing actual change on the ground.

As I see it, beyond the direct lobbying in Washington and debate within each industry, one of the best ways to influence the corporate world is to address them via the business press. As I see it, as a regular reader of these papers (Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, or the Financial Times in Europe), they function as 'distilleries' of common wisdom: opinions are brought forward by politicians and by opinion pieces or by the contacts of the journalists (which are likely to come from investment banks or the think tanks of the right), and become undisputed background "facts" in supposedly factual pieces. It is thus essential to participate to the debate in these press organs, especially as, in today's world, which is totally dominated by economic and financial values (if something cannot be measured in dollars, it is worthless), the common wisdom of the business press quickly becomes the background color of the regular mainstream news.

Thus Democrats need to bring up their ideas to the business press. Remember how Jim Webb brought populism to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal? Well the same must be done about energy, because the solutions of the Democrats and the Republicans could not be more different.

Republicans will focus, as usual, on ways to bring more supply to the market: drill more, subsidize big oil (to bring more oil), or big agribiz (to grow biofuels), or Detroit (to provide more public R&D on hydrogen engines), or lead aggressive diplomacy to force other countries to open up their reserves to us (to let "us" extract "our" oil under "their" sand/toundra). These things cannot solve the energy crisis we're entering, but they look like they do, and, more importantly, they require minimal effort while making select groups extremely happy.

Democrats need to bring up actual solutions, in ways that can be appealing to the corporate world, and make that case where it can be heard: in the business press.

  • Renewable energy is a job-rich, technology-rich industry, and it is close to being competitive on its own: smart, consistent support, even on a limited scale, can have a big effect.
  • Energy efficiency and savings are a tougher nut to crack, because utilities don't appear to benefit, but it also involve non-offshorable jobs, high tech, and rapid returns, so business constituencies should be easy to build, including with the utilities if they can be made to profit from savings they bring to their consumers
  • Fuel efficiency should be a no-brainer, but bumps against the fact that Detroit is late to the game. The smart solution would be to offer a grand deal whereby much tougher requirements are put in place, but within a timeframe that allows the Big Three to catch up (say, 4 years for new CAFE standards or equivalent to be in place for new models), and accompanied by a support plan (R&D subsidies, worker training, and the like)
  • altogether, the importance of consistent, stable, long term regulation should be emphasised. Many businesses know that things need to be done (wrt to global warming, for instance), and would rather do it under rules that apply to all, and across all States, than under locally pushed rules that differ in scope and intensity according to the location. Promising - and delivering - stable regulation to business would do much to make Democrats popular with the energy-intensive business world.

All of the above can - and should - be sold to the business world via the channels they listen to. Thus it dismays me to see that I never seem to read prominent Democrats in the WSJ and that that territory is claimed with increasing frequency by smart Republicans, who use national security credentials to push their version of a solution.

For instance, today, we have James Woolsey, pushing biofuels and plug-in hybrids:

Gentlemen, Start Your Plug-Ins

The change is being driven by innovations in the batteries that now power modern electronics. If hybrid gasoline-electric cars are provided with advanced batteries (GM's announcement said its choice would be lithium-ion) having improved energy and power density -- variants of the ones in our computers and cell phones -- dozens of vehicle prototypes are now demonstrating that these "plug-in hybrids" can more than double hybrids' overall (gasoline) mileage. With a plug-in, charging your car overnight from an ordinary 110-volt socket in your garage lets you drive 20 miles or more on the electricity stored in the topped-up battery before the car lapses into its normal hybrid mode. If you forget to charge or exceed 20 miles, no problem, you then just have a regular hybrid with the insurance of liquid fuel in the tank. And during those 20 all-electric miles you will be driving at a cost of between a penny and three cents a mile instead of the current 10-cent-a-mile cost of gasoline.

Utilities are rapidly becoming quite interested in plug-ins because of the substantial benefit to them of being able to sell off-peak power at night. Because off-peak nighttime charging uses unutilized capacity, DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimates that adopting plug-ins will not create a need for new base load electricity generation plants until plug-ins constitute over 84% of the country's 220 million passenger vehicles.


Since OPEC cannot drive oil prices low enough to undermine our use of off-peak electricity, it is unlikely to embark on a course of radical price cuts at all because such cuts are painful for its oil-exporter members. Plug-ins thus may well give investors enough confidence to back alternative liquid fuels without any need for new taxes on oil or subsidies to protect them.

Environmentalists should join this march with enthusiasm. (...)  replacing gasoline with electricity further brightens the environmental picture. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute has shown that, with today's electricity grid, there would be a national average reduction in carbon emissions by about 60% per vehicle when a plug-in hybrid with 20-mile all-electric range replaces a conventional car.

Subsidizing expensive substitutes for petroleum, ignoring the massive infrastructure costs needed to fuel family cars with hydrogen, searching for a single elegant solution -- none of this has worked, nor will it. Instead we should encourage a portfolio of inexpensive fuels, including electricity, that requires very little infrastructure change and let its components work together: A 50 mpg hybrid, once it becomes a plug-in, will likely get solidly over 100 mpg of gasoline (call it "mpgg"); if it is also a flexible fuel vehicle using 85% ethanol, E-85, its mpgg rises to around 500.

deathsinger asked me yesterday if dKos would ever support a carbon tax, if brought about by Dubya - in an indirect response, let me laud here what Woolsey proposes: plug-in hybrids would indeed be an excellent solution: they would bring about a significant reduction in oil use and thus work on the demand side of the balance, exactly what is needed; as he points out, it is a solution that can be implemented using today's infrastructure.

What is not clear in his proposal is how we will get there: he seems to be saying that no government intervention will be needed, and that "markets" will bring this about on their own. That's where I disagree, and where Democrats need to take their stand and make their proposals, to bring on board both utilities and Detroit to actually get it done on an accelerated - and coordinated - basis, as part of a deal whereby the goal should be to reduce significantly overall consumption, and not just allow people to drive ever more because it's suddenly become easier to do so (thus only pushing the problem back by a few years once again).

They should grab the reference document Woolsey uses as his starting argument:

An oil and security task force of the Council on Foreign Relations recently opined that "[t]he voices that espouse 'energy independence' are doing the nation a disservice by focusing on a goal that is unachievable over the foreseeable future . . ." Others have also said, essentially, that other nations will control our transportation fuel -- get used to it. Yet House Democrats have announced a push for "energy independence in 10 years," and last month General Motors joined Toyota and perhaps other auto makers in a race to produce plug-in hybrid vehicles, hugely reducing the demand for oil. Who's right -- those who drive toward independence or those who shrug?

Bet on major progress toward independence, spurred by market forces and a portfolio of rapidly developing oil-replacing technologies.

This is a transparent attempt to prevent Democrats to claim the national security mantle (and another reason why this fight needs to be engaged in the columns of the same paper), but it is also a very partial reading of the paper by the Council on Foreign Relations: National Security Consequences of US Oil Dependency (pdf!), which states the following:

A popular response to the steep rise in energy prices in recent years is the false expectation that policies to lower imports will automatically lead to a decline in prices. The public's continuing expectation of the availability of cheap energy alternatives will almost surely be disappointed.

While oil prices may retreat from their current high levels, one should not expect the price of oil to return, on a sustained basis, to the low levels seen in the late 1990s. In fact, if more costly domestic supply is used to substitute for imported oil, then prices will not moderate.

Yet the public's elected representatives have allowed this myth to survive, as they advocate policies that futilely attempt to reduce import dependence quickly while simultaneously lowering prices. Leaders of both political parties, especiallywhen seeking public office, seem unable to resist announcing unrealistic goals that are transparent efforts to gain popularity rather than inform the public of the challenges the United States must overcome.

and make the following proposals:

  • A tax on gasoline (with the tax revenue recycled into the economy with a fraction possibly earmarked for specific purposes such as financing of energy technology research and development [R&D]);
  • Stricter and broader mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, known as CAFE standards; and
  • The use of tradable gasoline permits that would cap the total level of gasoline consumed in the economy.

Used singly or in combination, these measures would not only encourage higher-efficiency vehicles (although these will take time to find their way into the fleet), but also encourage the introduction of alternative fuels, as well as promote changes in behavior such as the greater use of public transportation. While there are other domestic policies that could be adopted to limit demand for fuels, no strategy will be effective without higher prices for transportation fuels or regulatory incentives to use more efficient vehicles.

There it is. The CFR is as insidery a body as can be found in Washington, and they are specifically saying that demand reduction is paramount, and that regulatory intervention is required. I don't want to focus on the gas tax here, we've discussed it enough before, but the other ideas would be distinctively Democratic while being supported by a highly respected Washington bipartisna body.

It's time to make the Democratic case for a new energy policy - and to make it where it matters to convince big business to join in.

Tips and Recommends welcome

This is written for an American audience, with the US context in mind, but the political lessons in there are valid in Europe as well, I suppose.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 10:49:50 AM EST
Many journalists today publish their email address online and often in print also. This presumably means that they want feedback.

This could range from energy reports to commentary on specific details. As usual, I would assume that carfeully argued, factually documented and where possible, illustrated (we have the skills around here) documents, with a summary at the top to grab the attention, will have a great chance of being read, once a channel has been opened.

All journalists have sources which they cultivate - it goes with the territory. We should seek to be one of those sources.

I think there are still enough journalists out there who want to rely on good information.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 12:26:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Many journalists today publish their email address online and often in print also. This presumably means that they want feedback.

From personal experience, hardly anyone bothers to email journalists.

Very little of what I write is controversial, but even so - comments usually go to the editor rather than to individual writers. Most of the time I get no feedback at all, except occasionally when an editor mentions in passing that something from a few months back was or wasn't popular and/or commented on.

All journalists have sources which they cultivate - it goes with the territory. We should seek to be one of those sources.

More than that, we should set an agenda. All it takes is some headed notepaper and a nominal office address with a phone number.

If you send out regular press releases, you become a source.  They'll be ignored for the first year or so, but if you keep them coming sooner or later someone is going to be looking for some received wisdom to print.

The lack of this kind of organisation is a big weakness of the Left. We have the ideas, but we don't have the media equivalent of the netroots to promote and popularise them.

Currently the Right owns this territory, which is one reason why you'll find an endless stream of nonsense coming from the FT and the Economist.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 08:23:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A month or so back I spoke with the Finnish wire service STT. They have tiered interaction.

The 'freee' level : Anyone can submit press releases, and they will be published and archived - along with thousands of others. The press release will not go on the wire, it will be available to news subscribers. It is a pull service, not pushed ie journalists will search the database.

The next levels are annual subscriber services - you pay to have your PR stuff put on the wire. Cost depends on frequency. It is not that exepnsive IN FINLAND, but presumably more so for the international wire services.

You are right about the 'branding' - to become a source, you need to look 'official'.

I suspect though, that big changes are on their way for newspapers, which may change their attitude to groups such as ET. We all know the difficulties that newspapers already face: drastic loss of classifieds income, circulations dropping each year (some as high as 7-10% in the States) and loss of ad revenue from both falling circulation as well as ad spend shifts. National commercial TV is facing the same problems.

The biggest signal that something big is happening though, are the current plans by Finnish and Swedish paper companies to dump newsprint capacity. I would have expected Asia and Russia to pick up the slack in demand - but that isn't happening so far. (Although the Chinese are picking up bulk paper waste in Europe and shipping back home)

LWC and SC papers seem to be holding for the moment. These are the thin but opaque papers used for catalogues and magazines.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Dec 31st, 2006 at 05:08:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, is the used battery disposal issue under control?
by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 12:54:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was looking up European energy use projections when I found this: European Union Sustainable Energy Week

Under the umbrella of the Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign (SEE), the European Commission's Directorate-General for Energy and Transport, the European Institutions and major stakeholders concerned with sustainable energy are together putting on the first EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW). It will take place in Brussels, Belgium, and in other cities across Europe from Monday 29 January to Friday 2 February, 2007.

The aim of the EUSEW is to become the key annual reference point for sustainable energy issues in Europe. The events organised during EUSEW cover key topics that highlight the multi-sectoral nature of sustainable energy development and stress the need for everyone to work together towards a common goal.

Take a week to change tomorrow

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 01:44:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Wall Street Journal's Econoblog had a conversation back in August 2005 titled Drilling for Broke? Experts Debate 'Peak Oil' with James Hamilton of the University of California at San Diego and Robert Kaufmann of Boston University's Center for Energy & Environmental Studies:

Robert Kaufmann writes: Personally, I think global oil production will peak between 2015 and 2025 and be a greater challenge than the "looming crisis" in Social Security...

After the peak, each barrel of oil will require more energy to extract. This leaves less energy to power the non-energy sectors of the economy...

With 20 years until the peak, no fuel now being researched generates a greater surplus or can be used more efficiently than oil...

James Hamilton writes: I do think it's quite possible that global oil production in 2006 will be lower than it is now, but if that happens, it will be driven by demand reductions or geopolitical events that disrupt the flow of oil, rather than bumping up against the geological reality of which Robert is speaking.

Robert writes: I am less sanguine than James about the market's ability to anticipate the peak and price oil accordingly. Statistical studies of futures markets indicate that the price of oil in the "outer months" (six months or a year ahead) is not a very good "predictor."...

policy should impose a large energy tax that is phased in over a long period, perhaps 20 years. Furthermore, increases in the energy tax should be "offset" by reducing other taxes, such as payroll or corporate taxes. Economic studies show that such an approach can generate a "win-win" solution -- reduce energy use (and the environmental damages not paid by users), stimulate research and development on alternative energies, and speed economic growth...

Think about the changes needed to replace motor gasoline. Society will have to retool the auto industry, alter every gas station and retrain every auto mechanic. These changes need to start before the peak. If they start after, they will add to the disruptions caused by the peak...

We know that oil production will peak within our lifetime, we think market prices may not anticipate this peak and we know that not having alternatives in place at the time of the peak will have tremendous economic and social consequences. So, if society does too much now, as opposed to later, there will be some loss of efficiency. But if society does too little now, as opposed to later, the effects could be disastrous. Under these conditions, doing too little now in the name of efficiency will appear in hindsight as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 05:36:42 PM EST
Stricter and broader mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, known as CAFE standards;

Obama mentioned in a podcast this March that China now has higher fuel-efficiency standards than we do.

Seems like a point that can be harped on by Democrats to motivate Americans to get with the program.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 05:53:46 PM EST
Well, the Ford T has better fuel efficiency that the current US fleet, believe it or not.

American cars are just too damn big and have too damn big engines. Again, why do you need 300hp in a car that cannot go more thna 55mph?

I vaguely understand the point of powerful German cars, as you can actually use them as full potential on bits of the autobahnen, but big powerful clunkers that will cruise on the highway??

I just don't get it.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 06:00:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
big powerful clunkers

That's all there is to get.  I'm loathe to do the "Americans are like this and Europeans are like that" routine, but it does seem to me that a perplexing number of Americans are singularly interested in claiming their personal space, and it is reflected in the girth of their cars are homes and ... persons.  It's both a signal of wealth (I can buy this much car, house, whatever) and a type of intimidation that is both violent (I can run you over like an ant) and isolating (there is this much space between me and you).  In the end it is an attempt to compensate for the lack of power people feel over their own lives.

Anyway, I am often reminded of the wonderful little story, How much land does a man need? when I think about the super-sizing of America.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 07:16:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't get it because there is nothing rational about it to get.  It is a quirk of American culture, the cult of the car.  It does not live in the grey matter, where it can be influenced by rational arguments.  It lives in the lizard brain which only responds to instinctive, emotional impulses.  It is an integral part of our profoundly adolescent national culture.

I came of age in the sixties, the age of the muscle car.  Think of Bullit, the quintessential Nineteen Sixties American Muscle Car Movie.  That movie can teach you more about what drives American culture than a whole shelf of text books.

I was a more or less typical American teenager in the latter half of the sixties.  Key phrase there: typical American teenager.  Inside every middle aged American male is an id-driven seventeen year old struggling to get out.  Like most of my contemporaries, I lusted after the muscle cars like the Mustang, the Chevy SS, and the Dodge Challenger almost more than I lusted after my teenage female schoolmates.  Bring any three teenage American males of that time period together, and a likely topic of heated debate would be the relative bad-assedness of the Chevy 427, the Ford 428, and the Dodge 426, the infamous Hemi.  For non-aficionados, the numbers refer to the displacement in cubic inches of the three biggest engines most commonly found in the various muscle cars.  If I'm not mistaken, those would be in the neighborhood of seven liters.  Suffice to say that they were insanely large for any practical purpose for any practical personal motor vehicle.  They were too big and too heavy for any practical purpose other than straight-line drag racing, another peculiar American vice.  They made most of the cars they were installed in grossly front heavy, which made them dangerously unstable in any kind of high speed lateral maneuvers.  Sports cars they were not.

I was a Hemi man myself.  I would have sold my soul to possess anything that was Hemi powered.  I was not alone.  A popular slogan of the day was The Hemi is King.  Most wanted a Hemi powered Challenger or Barracuda.  Not me.  Growing up on a farm in rural Oklahoma, my lust was reserved for a big honking four wheel drive Dodge truck.  Powered by a Hemi, of course.  

What can I say, I was a child of the times.  It was an insane, irrational, adolescent masurbatory fantasy.  Most Americans have never grown past that stage in their development.  At least on the subject of their vehicles.  Don't try to understand it, it doesn't make any kind of rational sense.  It never did.

We all bleed the same color.

by budr on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 08:16:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At first I thought your analogy of lust for big engines with sexual lust was essentially stylistic, but the more I read, the more I sensed that you were talking about some kind of real sublimation/diversion of sexual urges.

Suggests that freeing Americans from the cult of car might require some serious psychological therapy!

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Sun Dec 31st, 2006 at 06:03:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely! There are not many men who would willingly downsize their member, which is a surrogate for power.

The other important psycho-aspect of big cars is the extent to which they now cocoon you, and isolate you from the world. Gone is any sensual experience of driving. Our leaders all live in cocooned lives and that is the reason so few of them have any idea how people actually live. The fact that they encourage everyone else, by example, to cut themselves off from everyday reality is troubling.

Space module cars, gated communities, and referring to people as demographics or numbers - all these are the same thing. Retreat.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Dec 31st, 2006 at 10:46:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Until they get old ... my son's car is fairly big, and since the passenger side window does not go all the way up and the ride is fairly rough, definitely does NOT coccoon the motorist!

But, that's what he could afford, because he insisted on getting a car and fuel-efficient cars were outside of his price range.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jan 1st, 2007 at 01:38:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sublimation nothing! For the teenage boy with a car, its the primary means to avoid having to sublimate sexual urges. Both in terms of getting the girl to say yes to a date, and for having a location for the non-sublimation to occur.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Dec 31st, 2006 at 02:27:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you are just a bit wrong on this point about the "need" for 300 HP engines. First, the speed limit in the western U.S. is 75 MPH in many rural areas, and people routinely drive at 80 MPH (about, what, 130 KPH). Also, there are some pretty steep hills here, even on roads in routine use. For example, going west out of Denver towards the ski areas, Interstate 70 has a long 6% grade, and a fully loaded SUV requires a LOT of horsepower to maintain full speed up this hill.

One may of course ask why it is so essential to maintain full speed up such hills, and there is no really good answer to THAT question!

by asdf on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 11:18:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We do have a few alpine highways in Europe, and, as you know, the speed limit is often in the 70-80 mph range.

My small Citroen with its 1 litre, 34hp engine could manage them, and so can my current MPV with 5 passengers and luggage and a 1.6 liter 110 hp engine.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 1st, 2007 at 04:48:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would also list some factors that make it difficult for the Democrats to embrace an aggressive energy policy. They should do so, but here are some things that make it hard:

Fuel efficiency in cars is a somewhat difficult technical problem and a huge business problem. The price of a large car does not reflect the cost to produce it, but the profit that the car-maker can extract. Detroit has enough difficulty even when they are able to sell large cars; how are they to compete in the very small car market? This is something of great concern to the UAW union and the Democrats they support. "During the coming year the UAW will have to remain vigilant against renewed efforts to pass extreme, discriminatory CAFE proposals."

Conservationist activists are often part of the the NIMBY crowd. For example, many so-called "conservationists" are worried about things like ugly roadside signs, cell phone towers, and power lines. Windmills, to choose an obvious example, are considered ugly by many people. Another example is hydroelectric power; you surely are aware that just such a project in Tasmania was the original catalyst for the global Green movement. Reaching a tradeoff between conserving the landscape and solving the energy demand is going to be tricky.

There may be a large problem in the future if politicians are in charge of choosing transportation technology. For example, plug-in hybrids seem pretty good, but are they, really? To get any useful range, say 50 miles, you need very big and expensive batteries, just like in an electric car. Where is the comprehensive study of the cost of plug-in hybrid technology that compares it to the many other alternatives? If fuel has to cost, say, $15 per gallon to make plug-ins economic, how many people will just ride the bus instead? Or build a train? Or change jobs? Or eat local food?

I would suggest that Democrats--and environmentalists everywhere--might make headway by arguing that subsidies to the oil industry should be reduced (or eliminated?) in the interest of not distorting the energy economy. This should resonate with politicians on both sides of the aisle--except to the extent that their campaigns are paid for by the oil industry...


by asdf on Sat Dec 30th, 2006 at 11:54:46 PM EST
I do want to stress that 20 miles is useful range, especially given that rather than just stopping, the car simply shifts from "cheap to run" into "expensive to run" mode.

Indeed, I argue that a regional transport station with a 20 mile recruiting band on both sides represents a strong step toward bridging the massive gap from the outer suburbia that US has today and the networked villages, towns and cities that it needs to move develop in situ. And since there is an operating cost benefit offered by a 20-mile solo range on its own, with policies that tilt the financial balance in favor of pluggable hybrids, the "installed base" can be in place for dedicated transport corridor stations to come with pluggable parking places, where a subscriber pulls in and plugs in.

For example, if there were high speed lines from Buffalo to Cleveland and from Cleveland through to Akron and Canton (eg., Boston / Albany / Syracuse / Rochester / Buffalo / Cleveland and west, and Cleveland / Akron / Canton / Newark, Columbus and south), then a single feader from Youngstown through Ravenna/Kent to northern Akron would complete a 40 mile grid for most of NE Ohio.

This is not to say that a very loose grid like that is ideal, but the looser the grid can be and still recruit a noticeable share of the transport task, the easier it is to get the ball rolling. And the price "kink" between oil fuel and electricity up to the pure-electric mode of the pluggable hybrid creates a recruitment zone that will only become stronger as oil prices rise.  From there, a sustainable roll out model will lead to the same grid infilling that occured in the US with the first wave of inter-urbans in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

Of course, that requires an increase in electricity supply ... but smart grid off peak charging of pluggable hybrids makes it substantially easier to expand the market for variable yield energy sources like windpower ... with the likely dropping of off peak rates further encouraging the pluggable hybrids.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Dec 31st, 2006 at 02:56:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"the car simply shifts from "cheap to run" into "expensive to run" mode.

Actually, the car shifts from "cheap to run" mode to "lugging around 500 pounds of battery with a 40 HP motor" mode. (The EV1 battery weighed 1175 kg. The Prius battery weighs about 45 kg. Batteries are heavy.)

I have not seen a study that accounted for the performance and operating cost of a PHEV used mostly in out-of-range scenarios. The comparisons you usually see are for cases using the standard driving cycle, which stays within the electric-only range.

Here's a pretty comprehensive resource on the topic.

by asdf on Sun Dec 31st, 2006 at 09:53:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is a separate issue to the point I was making, of course, but the report that is linked to does, in fact, consider a range of charging cycles, including the "electric commute to work, petrol commute home" scenario.

But of course, even outside the 20 mile (36km) range of a PHEV20 vehicle, the larger battery is not just "lugged around", but increases the efficiency of the drive train at the same time that it increases the load on the drive train. If that study linked to is accurate - I have only glanced at it, and have not seen critiques, so that is a strong "if" - the fuel-only fuel efficiency of their PHEV20 vehicle is roughly equal to the fuel-only efficiency of their HEV vehicle (Table 2-1, p. 2-5).

As I said at the outset, this is all distinct to the point I was making, that the market acceptance is higher because rather than being stranded when leaving the range of the electric-support infrastructure, motorist have the familiar gasoline drive train as a psychologically reassuring "back up". Its that market acceptance which is important for "front-loading" the vehicle fleet to increase the park and ride recruitment potential of the dedicated transport corridor.

After all, in the outer suburban retrofit strategy, the intention is to reduce the length of the average driving cycle by design, while at the same time reducing the driving share of the total transport task.

And that report is with NiMH ... if Lithium Ion is either longer lived or lower weight to store the same energy, then that would tilt the balance toward PHEV20 even further.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jan 1st, 2007 at 11:53:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you in general that PHEV technology is probably the way to go for the short term. The two points I was trying, in my ineffective way, to make are that first, the efficiency of this approach is not proven. The referenced article seems to show only cases that compare driving cycles, and as I read it the driving cycles they're talking about are the short-distance EPA cycles. A long cycle, like NYC to Chicago and back requires the use of the ICE almost the entire distance. The efficiency change from the hybrid system in this environment is almost certainly negative because of the considerable weight of the battery.

More importantly, your original discussion was about promoting this technology by political means. This I disagree with, because I don't want politicians deciding technical approaches. Our current hysteria about Ethanol and Hydrogen are both terrific examples of political agendas disguised as energy solutions...

by asdf on Mon Jan 1st, 2007 at 06:59:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ethanol and Hydrogen are precisely what we get when we refuse to tackle these problems by political means and then allow big corporations to dictate to government what will happen.

Not doing it "by political means" is to explicitly decide not to plan ahead and wait until the crisis hits full force before doing something, and then to pick our choices from among the solutions that have been made available by big business. After all, a "market" can't plan ahead, or design complex systems, so "letting market forces work" is to explicitly decide to let some large organization other than the elected government set our policy on our behalf.

That is the point of this diary ... if we do not fight for this ground, it will be taken by big business and will be used to their short term benefit and everyone's long term loss.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jan 2nd, 2007 at 04:24:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... the report explicitly gives a "fuel-only" (that is, no-charge) fuel efficiency for PHEV20 that is effectively the same as that for HEV with no pre-charge component. How they arrive at that, I don't know, as I have not burrowed into the report as of yet. However, they do include in their range of "charging cycles" the "no-charge" as one extreme, with the "charge before every trip" as the other extreme.

And what, after all, is the point? To be more fuel efficient under every circumstance, or to (1) provide a substantial improvement in fuel efficiency under the range of circumstances that represents the large majority of driving of the large majority of all motorists and (2) that improves the ability of park and ride public transport to recruit regular patronage?

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jan 2nd, 2007 at 04:29:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great synopsis of the situation and excellent policy recommendations.  I wouldn't be surprised if you have really developed a road map that can and will be followed over the next 15 years.  The hybrids with battery charge has huge advantages when you think in terms of converting to a new era of energy.  The approach leverages so much in the way of existing infrastructure that it seems very doable as a bridge to a time of discovering and bringing to the market efficient renewables.

I think raising the CAFE standards, (and particularly addressing SUV's and pickups which I imagine you meant) and raising the taxes on gasoline are particularly important to investors who are and will put huge funds into developing these new energy industries.  This would be one more signal to investors that the era of cheap oil is over--I know this should be clear by now to everyone, but if you're making multi-million dollar investments, the nightmare of cheap oil makes you a total loser.  So I think in addition to the other benefits of these policy decisions, it takes away obstacles slowing investments in this area.

You may disagree here, but I see this as a very doable and pragmatic vision, that allows energy costs and energy supply to be managed over a period of transition to the new energy required by our world economies--and I would argue that this will allow continued economic growth around the world, and that energy costs or peak oil, while definitely challenges, will not curtail the strong economic expansion that we are in worldwide.  Investments in transitional approaches such as you outline will broaden the time window to discover the renewable energy sources required.  And in fact these new industries will actually help to stimulate economies around the world, rather than hinder them.

Of course this will be a period of transition, and as such, there will be some winners and losers.  The "rust belt" of the northeastern US has been losing for the past 30 years for a host of reasons.  These jobs may continue to disappear, as it appears the innovators are not GM and Ford,,,,and a legacy cost structure continues to hinder them.  But this is not necessarily a job loss for the US as a whole, as the winners such as Toyota are building auto factories in the US--they are just south and west of the failures of the "rust belt".  Nor do US investors need to lose, as they can and are investing in the winning automobile companies around the world--some investment advisors are recommending a total global approach for American investors, which would have 30--55% of an equity portfolio invested in non-American companies.  So in the US, the rust belt if it sticks to its high cost legacy structure, and investors who can't accept that the world has gone global,,,,they could be the big losers.

by wchurchill on Sun Dec 31st, 2006 at 05:30:51 PM EST
Thanks wc.

CAFE standards need to be applied to SUVs, but they also need to be raised across the board. Cars have seen their fuel efficiency mostly stagnate over the past 20 years.

PHEV seems to be one of the most promising solutions all around - and could be a way for "Detroit" (or the rust belt in general) to get back in the game.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 1st, 2007 at 04:51:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I agree--I meant both raising the CAFE standards, and applying them to SUV's and light trucks.  It's so irritating that we let Detroit and their supporting Michigan politicians leave that glaring hole in the standards.
by wchurchill on Mon Jan 1st, 2007 at 12:37:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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