Blog Paul Roberts On The Promise Of Plug-in Hybrids

The May/June 2008 issue of Mother Jones is all about “The Future Of Energy,” and one must-read article is “The Seven Myths Of Energy Independence,” by Paul Roberts, author of “The End Of Oil.”
Roberts argues that energy security is a far more achievable and strategic goal for the United States than energy independence, and the goal should be “massive increases in energy efficiency,” particularly in the transportation sector. With that in mind, he details some of the reasons why plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) hold such great promise.

….saving energy is almost always cheaper than making it: There is far more oil to be “found” in Detroit by designing more fuel-efficient cars than could ever be pumped out of (the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge). And because transportation is the biggest user of oil–accounting for 7 of every 10 barrels we burn–any significant reduction in the sector’s appetite has massive ramifications….if we persuaded carmakers to switch to plug-in hybrids, we could cut our oil demand by a staggering 9 million barrels a day, about 70 percent of our current imports.
Such a shift would impose massive new demand on an electric grid already struggling to meet need, but plug-in hybrids actually stretch the grid’s existing capacity. Charged up at night, when power demand (and thus prices) are low, plug-in hybrids exploit the grid’s large volume of unused (and, until now, unusable) capacity. Such “load balancing” would let power companies run their plants around the clock (vastly more cost-effective than idling plants at night and revving them up at dawn); as important, it would substantially boost the grid’s overall output.
According to the Department of Energy, with such load balancing, America’s existing power system could meet current power demands and generate enough additional electricity to run almost three-quarters of its car and light-truck fleet. That alone would be enough to drop oil consumption by 6.5 million barrels a day, or nearly a third of America’s current demand.

Roberts also explains that environmental benefits will accrue from broader adoption of PHEVs even before much of the nation’s electricity is produced from renewables rather than fossil fuels.

…..kilowatt for kilowatt, turning fossil fuels into electricity in massive centralized power plants and then putting that juice into car batteries is more efficient than burning fossil fuels directly in internal combustion engines, and thus generates fewer CO2 emissions per mile traveled. (Our existing fleet generates a third of America’s CO2 emissions.) The DOE found that replacing three-quarters of the U.S. fleet with plug-in hybrids would cut vehicle CO2 emissions by 27 percent nationwide – 40 percent or more if the country’s power system were upgraded to match California’s low-carbon grid. And once the new fleet is in place, there is nothing stopping us from upgrading our power sources to truly renewable systems.

In a major report released last month titled “Plugged In: The End Of The Oil Age”, the World Wildlife Fund also zeroes in on why broader adoption of PHEVs should be an urgent priority. Here’s the full report, and an executive summary.
SAVE THE DATE – Sept. 4th & 5th: Make sure to save the dates September 4th and 5th of this year for Cascadia Center’s 5th Annual TransTech Conference at Microsoft’s Redmond campus. It’s titled, “Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation.” A top-drawer cast of policy-makers and experts will speak on PHEVs, alternative fuels, and more. Event and registration information here.
Cascadia Center’s “Beyond Oil” resource page.