Transportation Efficiency – Energy is Urgent
The Washington Post is a part of most of my mornings – a staple on my list of “to reads” each day – though I will quickly admit that I’m an online post scanner and not a front-to-back aficionada.
Last month, the post ran a special report on energy legislation in Washington, which included commentary on the quickly fading effects from the deepwater horizon oil spill in the Gulf this summer (note: the Post’s discussion was on the quickly fading animosity toward BP – not the quick cleanup of the Gulf’s waters). Their report included coverage of their forum Energy is Urgent – an event designed to bring together top policymakers, academics, industry leaders, and other energy experts to discuss the future of energy in our country and beyond our borders.
Few issues are more critical to Washington, the nation and the world than the choices we make about how we find, create and use energy. President Obama has pledged to end America’s worrisome dependence on foreign oil. Leaders in Congress and business hope to focus the nation’s entrepreneurial ingenuity on finding more affordable and environmentally friendly ways to heat our homes, run our businesses and power our vehicles.
When discussing critical aspects of the energy sphere, we (generally) clump the discussion into two camps – electricity and transportation. Until the Nissan Leaf, Prius PHEV, or Chevy Volt take-off, it will be fair to say that these two camps are separate (electricity doesn’t power cars, petroleum doesn’t produce electrons). When discussing ending “America’s worrisome dependence on foreign oil” the President and his advisors are not talking about electricity generation (in fact, only 3% of our nation’s electricity comes from petroleum – mostly in Hawaii and Florida) – they are talking about transportation fuels.
In order to decrease our nation’s dependence on foreign oil we have two strategies:
- Produce more oil on U.S. soil
- Use less oil
For the moment, I will ignore the first option – we can get into a discussion on the limitations of our domestic resources and the strategic arguments against depleting them too quickly later on – and will focus on the second, use less.
If the almost non-existent decrease in miles traveled per vehicle during $4.00+ gas prices is any indicator, “use less” does not likely mean conservation in this country (or many others, for that matter)…. instead, it probably means “do the same with less” a.k.a. energy efficiency.
This efficiency strategy was explored by Peter Whoriskey – Washington Post staff writer and a go-to-guy in the quest for knowledge on transportation technology and policy. In Whoriskey’s 9/30/10 article, he explores the parallel gains in vehicle efficiency and in size in today’s vehicles. According to Whoriskey, today’s cars will extract (on average) twice the amount of energy from a gallon of gasoline than they would 25 years ago. So, why do our cars still carry the same low gas mileage (miles per gallon) ratings as they did in 1985?
Size, weight, power.
So far, we (a.k.a. the generalized American consumer) has prioritized power, size, safety, and convenience over fuel savings. According to Mike Jackson, the cheif executive of AutoNation (the country’s largest auto retailer):
Right now, my customers will give up 5 mpg in fuel economy for a better cup holder.
What do we need to do to translate higher energy conversion rates (getting more energy out of our fuel) with higher gas miles (increased energy efficiency)?
How can we shift our priorities away from size, weight, and power to efficiency?