The Dawn of a New Day for Autos

A lot has changed in the two years since I made my first visit to the Washington Auto Show. Back then, gas prices averaged $2.68 per gallon and the Nissan LEAF looked like a “car of the future” compared to the other vehicles on the showroom floor. Now, prices at the pump are 25 percent higher, averaging $3.50 per gallon in 2011, and fuel costs are eating up the largest share of the average American’s income in over 30 years. Meanwhile, the auto industry is adapting their product line to their new environment and cooperating more closely with regulators. The 2012 auto show includes many more alternative vehicles like the all-electric Ford Focus (see picture below) and the Prius V, a 42 mile per gallon hybrid station wagon.

NPR Not Plugged In to All the Facts on Electric Vehicles

A recent story on NPR’s Morning Edition about plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) misses the mark. At C2ES, we don’t believe PEVs are the single answer to our transportation energy security and environmental problems, but we think they could make a contribution if they’re given a fair shot. That’s why we started an initiative on PEVs almost a year ago to take a practical look at the challenges and opportunities of PEV technology.

First, the story mentions plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) like the Chevrolet Volt at the outset, but then ignores how that vehicle type overcomes the problem at the heart of the story – range anxiety. The fear of being stranded due to inadequate driving range and deficient charging infrastructure is a legitimate critique of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). BEvs are battery-only vehicles, i.e. they cannot run on gasoline. But, the Volt and soon-to-be-released Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid can run on gasoline or electricity and have the same range as a conventional car. You can travel 25 to 50 miles in a Volt or up to 15 miles in a plug-in Prius without using gasoline and then rely on gasoline to fuel the rest of your trip. It’s difficult to estimate how many trips these electric-only ranges will accommodate, but a plug-in hybrid overcomes the need for a consumer to make that determination. In case you’re wondering, the average car trip length is 9.34 miles according to the National Household Transportation Survey.

Carbon Markets Take Flight (In Europe)

This post originally appeared on Txchnologist

At a time when many are adopting the narrative that carbon markets are faltering, the European Union (EU) is aggressively pursuing the expansion of theirs to include aviation. One of only two mandatory greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade systems in the world, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) plans to fold in a new sector beginning in January 2012. Our research shows reducing GHG emissions from aviation is critical if we are to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. Low-carbon fuel technology and other technologies for airplanes are advancing at a rapid clip, but we need a climate policy – either a price on carbon or something else – to get over the hump.

Climate Change at Kili

Glaciers on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

I recently returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for a great cause, and I was reminded why I left engineering to work on climate change. Mount Kilimanjaro, or Kili, is the tallest peak in Africa, and its summit is covered with beautiful glaciers (see the picture to the right). But those glaciers are rapidly disappearing, and scientists estimate Kili’s summit will be ice free by 2022. This trend is a prime example of forced adaptation to climate change and provides a serious warning of things to come unless we work together to reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions. The action we need has to come from government at all levels, businesses, and individuals as we explain in our Climate Change 101 series.

Moving Our Cars Off Oil

This post first appeared in Txchnologist.

It is too early to pick the ultimate car of the future. Plug-in electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and biofuel vehicles are currently in contention, but it is quite possible that no single alternative will dominate the future the way that gasoline-powered cars own our roads today. The competition will be fierce because these new technologies will not only be competing against each other, but also against the ever-improving internal combustion engine. By 2035, it’s quite possible a new gasoline-powered car will get 50 mpg and a hybrid-electric car (like the Toyota Prius) will achieve 75 mpg.

Whatever technologies win out, it is clear the societal costs of oil are too high. The price at the pump fails to include all the national security and environmental costs of exploration, extraction, distribution, and consumption of oil. Since oil appears cheaper to the consumer than its true cost to society, we end up consuming more than we should. We send hundreds of billions of dollars out of our economy each year – $330 billion in 2010 alone – to oil producers with monopoly power instead of investing the money here at home.