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Feb 1, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Here's what I just posted to­blogs/­power/­state-of-union-now-what If you've been reading what we've been saying the past week, you've seen some of this; if not, this brings you up to date. We encourage you to join in the dialogue.

Power, Plugs and People Feb. 01, 2006: State of Union: US Oil Addiction -- Now What?

At CalCars, we've been tracking the events leading up to last night's State of the Union speech, including the influential Thomas Friedman's "what I'd say in the speech" column and Pres. Bush's response to Friedman in a CBS interview last week. (You can find all these items and the official White House description of the Advanced Energy Initiative at the CalCars News Archive Index --­news-index.html -- this links to our News Archive postings.

Here's what I said after the CBS interview. The second paragraph gives PHEV advocates their taking-off point now that flex-fuel is gaining so much attention:

"It seems the auto-makers, and apparently, the President, are at last beginning to talk about evolving from gasoline to ethanol. And we're seeing acknowledgments of the superiority of cellulosic ethanol over that derived from corn/sugar and other foods. This makes our opportunity to establish plug-in hybrids as the starting point even more compelling and urgent. We'll get there with some combination of buyer initiatives like Plug-In Partners and CalCars and perhaps policies like gasoline taxes, CAFE standards and carbon caps.

If plug-in hybrids ARE NOT part of the solution, establishing ethanol as the PRIMARY fuel will present a significant infrastructure challenge. But if we power most of our driving miles from an increasingly-renewable electric grid, then obtaining sufficient ethanol for the RANGE-EXTENDER fuel is an achievable goal."

Here was my posted reaction last night:

"The President's speech represents a major step forward, He specifically singled out not just hybrids but also electric vehicles, and not just ethanol but cellulosic ethanol. The accompanying description of the Advanced Enrgy Initiative specifically points to plug-in hybrids. Both are earmarked for "further research" -- with longer goals for commercialization than we believe are necessary.

All in all, this breakthrough shows that people at the top levels of government are hearing the urgent calls of so many organizations, coalitions and opinion-makers to chart a new direction in energy and transportation."

Last night I got a number of emails saying I was sounding way too optimistic. I responded to one:

"We should welcome all the additional credibility that the President's endorsement of flex-fuel PHEVs provides, and keep on doing what we're doing. CalCars has been at this for four years, and others have been working on this for a decade. We still have our work cut out for us.

Also, let's not forget all the work we need to convince car-makers to build PHEVs. We just posted a new page at CalCars,­carmakers.html that tracks how car-makers are responding to the PHEV opportunity."

And this morning I posted a NY Times editorial pointing out ways in which the program fell short--and now here's CalCars Technology Lead Ron Gremban's reaction:

"This is a mixed bag. It is what I expected from an administration most likely intent on keeping the U.S. dependent on oil, but there is a silver lining, too.

The Bush administration is bowing to pressure from every direction for leadership toward energy independence by mentioning all the right things. But note that all the requested funds are for research and development, nothing for production incentives -- thereby contributing to yet more delay in deploying existing technologies. This applies even to the cellulosic ethanol initiative, the only one with a set time scale of 6 years to economic viability. In fact, Iogen, with a pilot plant in Canada, is already planning a full-scale production plant, probably in Germany instead of the U.S. And there were no steps to quickly change the percentage of new vehicles being produced as flex-fuel -- from under 5% now to 100% in a very few years. Vehicles produced this year will have E85 available to them within a few years, so ever car coming off the assembly line should be flex-fuel ready (at a cost of under $200).

For PHEVs, it ignores the fact that viable components, including batteries, are already availablel. Only the economic will to quickly move forward is missing. Research incentives are nice, but we need specific buyer incentives and productioni and component incentives (especially for battery and transmission manufacturing plants), and strong disincentives both for fuel inefficiency and carbon emissions. A useful, maybe critical, PHEV manufacturing incentive would be back-up underwriting of battery warranties, since field experience proving reliability will take years.

The silver lining is that the President has mentioned hybrids, EVs, and cellulosic ethanol, and his plan specifically includes PHEVs. This will give some weight to the fight even without real federal support."

We're looking forward to hearing your comments and strategic views. (To stay on-topic, remember, if you're tempted to write about mass transit or solar energy or other important issues, or ask questions about hybrids or plug-in hybrids, check out all the other blogs at­blogs and elsewhere.)

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