The Audacity of Scope

I attended an enlightening workshop on Smart Grid development at yesterday’s MIT Energy Conference. While the political will to re-shape our electric infrastructure seems to be there (at least at the top, White House, DOE, etc.) the obstacles are, well – daunting on several levels. Security and technical standards are getting much attention, but I was glad to hear this panel address the communication and human factors involved. This is essentially a change management challenge, on a continental scale.

At least one speaker seemed to think that consumers will only pay for infrastructure upgrades if they see personal economic benefit, but I don’t agree. Americans pay enormous sums for things that provide social cachet or emotional rewards.  I suppose we just need Smart Grid toys that are as cool as an iPhone.

Walking a Walk, Driving the Talk

So we still haven’t replaced the Subaru, and I’m on a hunt for the answer to a question I hear all the time now: “How and where can I buy an electric car?”

Short locating an out-of-production RAV4 EV, or investing in a Tesla Roadster (not in my league) it turns out that the answer is conversion. Thousands of gas-powered vehicles have been converted by DIY-ers and service specialists. A great catalog of these can be found here. Costs run $3-10K, but that’s beginning to look like a bargain to me.

Why the Daily Show matters

Jon Stewart’s segments are often short but pointed; tonight he spoke with Daniel Sperling, whose book “Two Billion Cars” digs in to the issues of sustainable transportation. It’s his fourth book on the subject. Why hadn’t I discovered this author earlier? Must keep watching, I suppose.

Gassing up, for the time being

Discovered a new resource today (and just in time to help with car selection): the ACEEE Greener Cars report. They charge for the full report (under $10) but offer free “green driving tips” where I finally learned what those black, accordion-looking plastic devices on gas pumps are: vapor-recovery nozzles. A good thing. Since you have to buy gas, try to use the right pump.

Must also give a nod to the Low Impact Living newsletter, where I found the link.

Buyer’s Market?

Thanks to a severe whack to the rear-end of our aging Subaru, my husband and I are in the market for another car (as is the young driver who hit us, I suppose). But despite the desperate offers coming from auto salespeople, this is a hard choice to make. The car we’ll want to be driving three years from now isn’t available yet, and we don’t want to commit to a loan on a vehicle that may suddenly lose value when fuel prices spike again.

So while we have an opportunity to stimulate the economy with insurance dollars, we’re feeling cautious. Leasing a Prius might be the best option… if we can find one!

Whose Risk, Whose Reward?

Today’s NY Times online business section points up the risks auto makers are taking on with the introduction of new PHEVs. Toyota has even moved up its launch of the plug-in Prius to fall of 2009. While this is pretty fantastic – an indication that the auto industry knows it can’t bet its future on petroleum – they are leaving the risk of fueling infrastructure to others. I think its a safe bet that even Better Place, Shai Agassi’s well-publicized venture, won’t be able to scale up fast enough to drive consumer demand. This risk has to be spread around, and it’s an opportunity to let a thousand (well, a dozen, maybe) ventures bloom in a new market.

Where the cars will come from

General Motors: Chevy Volt scheduled for production in 2010 (20,000 units)
Subaru: R1e testing in NYC 2008
Mitsubishi: i Miev testing in CA 2008/9
Renault-Nissan alliance: zero-emission vehicles being produced in TN, for 2010 release
Daimler: smart ev cars are in trial in the UK
Tesla Motors: recently introduced its Roadster, a high-end electric sportscar. A more affordable design Model S, is planned (15,000 units in 2011)
THINK: popular in Europe, the Th!nk city car will be available in the U.S. in 2010
What will drivers of all these vehicles have in common? They’ll need to plug in and charge their vehicle at convenient locations.

The Watts are Out There

Those who already have electrified wheels on the ground have found ways to locate and share access to power. Unfortunately, most of it come from non-
renewable fuels.
The Electric Automobile Association , which appears to be a delightfully spirited community, has chapters all over the US. The New England chapter even offers a map and directions to power outlets that welcome EVs. It’s a start – but not enough ignition to rev up consumer demand, I think.