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Brookings/Google Conference Consolidates National Support for Plug-Ins
Jun 20, 2008 (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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The June 11-12 conference, "Plug-In Electric Vehicles 2008: What Role for Washington" confirmed the full emergence of PHEVs. Plug-in cars are now seen as a compelling short- and long-term response to the intersecting crises of energy security, environment and economics. Usually we're quicker to report on events, but this time we've been slowed by other organizational and personal priorities. In the interest of getting information out before more time goes by, we're not taking as much time as we would want to shape a complete report. Below are our notes about key themes, quotable moments and resources.

THE EVENT: A standing-room-only crowd of 350+ people at the Capitol Hill Hyatt engaged with leading national figures from the auto industry, utilities, the US House and Senate, and the non-governmental/advocacy sector to advance the campaign for plug-in cars. In addition to the public figures, we met many staffers from legislators' offices and organizations are tracking developments and planning their involvement.

CONFERENCE BACKGROUND: When announced RechargeIT in June 2007, one of its six grants went to the Brookings Institution for a conference on Federal Policy Plug-Ins. David Sandalow at Brookings was then in the final stages of his book, "Freedom From Oil," designed to provide the next administration with the basis for a new energy policy, in which plug-in cars are centrally featured (order via link at­books.html ). By June 2008, with the remaining two presidential candidates both having seen and spoken favorably about PHEVs (photos at­phev-presidents.html ), the conference couldn't be better timed to help shape the future.

MEDIA REPORTS reflected the new status of PHEVs. Major stories in the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal and elsewhere now take as an assumption that plug-in cars will be on the market starting in 2010. Check for yourself: as we write this, if you search for Google Brookings, you'll find 207 articles from the past week at and 117 postings at .

OTHER SOURCES: The Brookings Institution's page for the conference at­events/­2008/­0611_plugin_vehicle.aspx contains the agenda and speaker bios plus links to videos and other resources.'s page on the event is at­recharge/­dcpluginsconference/­ . Meanwhile, Stefano Paris, an electric vehicle advocate, performed a great public service in recording and organizing the entire conference's video streams into about eight approximately one-hour segments. You can see the full speaker list, links to blogs and news reports on the event and watch the videos, with speakers for each segment identified, at­redirect/­PlugInConference.html . And look at reports and comments at and .

FEDERAL EXPRESS WANTS TO ORDER PHEVs: Since carmakers are watching the fleet market carefully, CEO and founder Fred Smith thrilled the audience when, in response to a question, he agreed to put out a Request for Proposals for PHEVs for the company (which has so far tested one Daimler/Chrysler Sprinter van).

AUTOMAKERS FAVOR PHEVS & INCREASED FEDERAL SUPPORT (only a bare summary of extended comments)

GENERAL MOTORS' Troy Clark, President, GM-North America, said "GM firmly believes the long-term solution involves a march toward the electrification of the automobile. The debate has already shifted. It isn't if this it's going to happen, it's really when."

FORD's Mark Fields, President, Ford North America, said, "Plug-ins hold the potential to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions, help address energy security issues and contribute to economic stability and employment." And he said, "Based on the necessary research and development costs, manufacturing and production investments, the lack of a national refueling infrastructure, and the lack of domestic battery manufacturing, it seems clear that a business case will not evolve, in the near term, without support from Washington." (full text at­apps/­pbcs.dll/­article?AID=/­20080611/­AUTO01/­806110460 )

TOYOTA's Bill Reinert, National Manager, Advanced Technology Group, disappointed many in the audience, basing his comments on what theysaw as a combination of outdated objections, disputed studies and a business-as-usual approach. His comments were reinforced by those from Alan Madian, Director, LECG, a research group, who pointed to the slow rate of adoption of new technologies as evidence that PHEVs wouldn't be a factor for a long time. (Speaking at the same session, we pointed to the still-relevant 2006 report from Alliance Bernstein showing that market penetration of hybrids and PHEVs could constitute 72% of all cars and 85% of new car sales by 2030 -- see­calcars-news/­493.html

SUPPORT: The presentations by Peter Darbee, Chair and CEO of PG&E Corporation, by Tom Kuhn, President of Edison Electric Institute, and John Bryson, Chairman and CEO of Edison International, made clear that our nation's utilities fully understand the potential of electrification of transportation to help them improve their business operations and continue their shift to renewable energy sources. For the utilities (contrary to broad misconceptions), plug-in cars are not about selling more electricity. They're about powering vehicles more efficiently, about using their off-peak capacity and improving their business operations. Their presentations also confirmed that we do need a modern power grid. Today's patchwork regional system will not hinder the widespread use of plug-in cars, but to fully fulfill the potential of using renewable energy for power generation and using parked cars for distributed energy storage, the nation will have to commit to new policies and facilities for transmission and control.

PHEV SOUNDBITES FROM CONFERENCE: Below are some notable statements:

  • "NOPEC" -- "No on Oil--Purchase Electric Cars" -- Tom Kuhn, President of Edison Electric Institute (the association of investor-owned utilities) coins a new phrase.
  • "For the commercialization of plug-in vehicles, there are no technological or economic showstoppers," -- Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives,
  • "They're a big part of the future: by 2050 or earlier, we'll see nearly all vehicles plug in." -- Deron Lovaas, Vehicles Director
  • "This is a time when we ought to be working together [including House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans], --Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • "The critical part of the race is going to be electric vehicles plug-in hybrids. Like many of you I was been pleased about the progress. The Chevy Volt is on track for 2010… but there are lots of things we need to do." -- Rep. John Dingell (D-MI)
  • "In terms of energy policy and the potential to shift transportation away from liquid fuels to the electric grid, PHEVs may prove to be nothing short of revolutionary." -- Sen.Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • "The single most important thing we need for development of this industry…is the passage of something that will level the playing field between the petroleum-based transportation system and the electrical-based transportation system. It is not a fair deal right now, the electrical folks are behind the eight ball right now because we give enormous subsidies to the oil- and gas-based transportation system, in our tax bills, which we're trying to repeal… But the biggest is the subsidy we give to oil and gas companies to allow them to treat the atmosphere as their personal garbage dump. We do not allow people to dump their garbage in municipal garbage dumps for free. We would never allow an oil company to take their slag from their refinery, put it in a garbage truck, back it up to a city park,and dump it in the city park for free in unlimited amounts. But that is exactly what we do with the most dangerous pollutant, the most dangerous garbage, which is carbon dioxide today." -- Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA)
  • "One of the things we inherited with too much of a technology single approach, and we were almost hydrogen all their time, and hydrogen and biofuels have their place in keeping our eyes on the prize of reducing oil… The question is, is there a preferential role for electronics based on their efficiency in delivering and storing and releasing that energy, and we're leaning at least on the scalable production side [toward improving batteries]." -- Andy Karsner, Assistant Secretaty for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, US Department of Energy
  • "You're my hero and my greatest concern, since you're an entrepreneur and you want to do the right thing, but voiding the warranty for the largest hardware purchase that's critical to the transportation and livelihood for most people is not a realistic option…. As a national vision, we want electrification of transportation to be ubiquitous,"-- Andy Karsner (responding to a question from David Taylor, owner of an auto shop in Sanford, North Carolina who has converted a Dodge RAM pickup truck to run on electricity; his video­watch?v=jn4Db9gPOkk was shown at the conference).
  •'s Dan Reicher had "two final important thoughts: This conference has really confirmed what many of us have long believed, and that is that plug-ins are a real solution whose time has finally arrived. It confirms another important fact: we enjoy serious, serious bipartisan support here in Washington with respect for this technology. We cannot say that with respect to several other major energy and environmental issues in this town, and that's quite important. The challenge now is how to build a coalition to really secure critical support for plug-ins in DC, for R&D, tax credits, infrastructure, procurement, particularly with the imminent arrival of a new administration and a new Congress. And that question for Brookings and Google is how to build that coalition, and have it ready for election day, when opportunities will loom even larger than today. Please give us your thoughts. My second thought is really a plea: when it comes to plug-ins we're really on a roll here. Even without a coalition in place there's so much each of us, our companies and organizations and as individuals, can do advance plug-in vehicles and the grid needed to support them: information, procurement and yes, building real plug-in cars, lots of them in the near term. With the momentum these last two days have produced please get out there and make things happen. The result will indeed be electrifying."

CALCARS' TALKING POINTS At the session, "Plug-In Vehicles: Where Are We Today?" my points were:

  • We've come along way since we brought a PHEV to Washington, DC, two years ago, showing Members of Congress the reality that with "todays technology and no new infrastructure," we could move to cars fueled by "cleaner/cheaper/domestic" electricity.
  • CalCars is focusing on "Successful PHEV Commercialization ASAP" -- with the prospects of a multiple PHEVs and EVs coming to market in 2010-2012, we want to find all ways to encourage automakers to accelerate.
  • The campaign is going international and expanding to a larger message about broad "electrification of transportation," and recognizing that when we look at "gallons per mile," the bigger the vehicle the larger the benefit. (That is, a 50 MPG hybrid saves 1 gallon/100 miles when it becomes a 100 MPG PHEV -- but a 10 MPG truck saves 5 gallon/100 miles when it becomes a 20 MPG PHEV.)
  • The largest near-term opportunity for petroleum reduction may come from partial electrification through conversions of substantial numbers of the world's 900+ million internal combustion vehicles already on the road -- a message Intel's former CEO Andy Grove is beginning to deliver to diverse audiences. See a preview of this focus at­ice-conversions.html
  • We have an opportunity in the coming months to ask both Presidential candidates to tell automakers that whichever one of them becomes President, the industry can count on major initiatives for plug-in cars. See a preview of this focus at­phev-presidents.html.
  • At other points in the first day, my message was that "business as usual" was no longer a prudent strategy for carmakers beause of the global urgency of energy security and climate change and the new market pressures and opportunities they create.

Plans and new developments will continue to be discussed and announced at events in the coming months: at the Plug-In2008 conference July 22-24 in San Jose, and at September 4-5, 2008, at the Fifth Annual Cascadia-Microsoft Conference on Transportation Technology in Redmond. Get info at -- info about the San Jose event is currently at the CalCars' events page­events.html and we'll soon have details about the Washington State event as well. And at Hybridfest in Madison, Wisconsin July 19-20, PHEVs will be widely viewed.

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