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Seeing Green: Emission Reducing Fuel Policies Help Lower Gas Prices

This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s California Dream 2.0 blog.

By: Tim O’Connor and Shira Silver

Californians struggling with high gas prices should feel optimistic about the future.  A new memo by economists from EDF and Chuck Mason, a prominent economist at the University of Wyoming, demonstrates that policies established to reduce emissions and help the state reach its climate change goals also help to arm consumers at the pump.

The Low Carbon Fuel Standardcap and trade, and other complementary policies such as Governor Brown’s Zero Emission Vehicle program and national Renewable Portfolio Standards seek to integrate lower or zero-carbon fuels into the energy market in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

As our memo explains, in California these efforts also help to increase the market share for alternative, lower-carbon fuels. Between now and 2020, alternatives may grow to occupy between 15 and 24 percent of the market, creating new jobs and addressing the large market share that oil companies have in California.

Currently six oil companies control 94 percent of the fuels market in California. Through a set of mergers and other factors they have developed a strong lock on fuel in the state, and more specifically on consumers’ pocketbooks at the pump.

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Auto dealers vs. Tesla: Why the market will decide

This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Voices blog.

Source: jurvetson/Flickr

The European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia and the State of California have all set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. Given that a large share of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation (including 29% of U.S. emissions), it will be very tough to meet this goal without “decarbonizing” our cars and trucks.

The most obvious solution is electric vehicles (EVs) charged by clean energy sources like solar or wind. While several startup EV companies – including Fisker, Coda and Better Place – have struggled, the Tesla car company seems to be succeeding. At least that’s the current view of the markets: Tesla shares have more than tripled since March and in May the company raised almost $1 billion in new capital.

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #11: Battery Switch Model For Electric Vehicles From Better Place

Throughout 2012, EDF’s Energy Innovation Series will highlight around 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on Better Place’s battery switch model for electric vehicles.

When it comes to refueling gas-powered cars, drivers around the world have about 100 years of practice:  when you run low on fuel, you look for a gas station.  With electric vehicles (EVs) beginning to enter the market, auto manufacturers, grid operators and customers are searching for ways to ease the transition from gas to electricity.

Better Place, a venture-backed company founded in Silicon Valley, is building charging stations in several countries to serve EV customers, and has designed an innovative approach that may well become the “gas station” of the future.  Rather than refill your battery, Better Place’s automated service stations swap it out.

Better Place’s battery switch stations – which could be described as a mixture of a drive-through car wash and a Jiffy Lube service station – can extract and replace an electric car’s battery in a matter of minutes, without requiring the driver to get out of the car.  To complement the switch stations, Better Place also builds a network of standard charging stations to regularly “top off” the battery when the car is parked.

Source: Better Place

“The switching concept makes sense for several reasons,” said John Proctor, Director of Global communications at Better Place.  “Battery switch enables us to address the relatively high cost and limited driving range of EVs.  Better Place buys the battery, removing that burden and worry for drivers, and enables them to quickly switch a battery for a fully charged one to overcome concerns about EVs having enough charge for longer trips.”

Some plug-in models, like the Chevy Volt, have gas powered range extenders that give the car the per-charge range of most gas-powered cars.  But many models are powered purely by electricity.  Enabling those cars to compete with comparable gas-powered models on cost and convenience is the aim of Better Place around the globe. Read More »

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Volt’s Speed Bump Is Neither Shocking Nor Alarming

By: Jamie Fine, EDF Economist, and Colin Meehan, EDF Clean Energy Analyst

Source: Technorati

Last Friday’s move by General Motors (GM) to briefly suspend production of the Chevy Volt must not be misconstrued as a sign that the car is failing to advance American leadership in building a clean energy future. 

Just a few short years ago, it was widely argued that America’s vehicle manufacturers could never again be healthy competitors in the global marketplace.  They simply lacked the vision, discipline, and innovation skills necessary to re-invent themselves, it was said.  

Today, many of those same doom-sayers are again selling American manufacturing short.  GM blames those critics for the pause in Volt production, saying they have treated the car as a “political lightning rod.” 

GM has a point.  With Volt production by its 1300 Michigan employees slated to resume in April, the critics are missing the real story behind the Volt and other electric vehicles in production and under development.  That is the story of steady and determined progress toward American leadership in building the clean, reliable, safe and sought-after vehicles Americans want to buy.  With that progress comes the promise of new jobs, a cleaner environment, and reclaimed pride and competitiveness of America’s manufacturers.  For GM, the Volt symbolizes the company’s technological prowess in its most profitable year ever. 

Lost in the gloomy rhetoric about the Volt is some genuine good news: the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are actually beating the sales history of their hybrid cousins.  When the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight were offered as the first commercially available hybrids in 2000, only 9,350 cars were sold.  By the end of their first year, over 17,000 Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts were sold.  This is a particularly impressive debut considering the headwinds they have faced in terms of negative publicity and technological hurdles. 

The Prius is now among the best selling cars in the U.S. with over 2 million vehicles on the road.  Most major auto manufacturers now offer hybrid vehicles, from Buick to BMW to Hyundai.  The same can be said for electric vehicles (EV) today., the “official U.S. government source for fuel economy information,” lists 16 new models coming out over the next few years and another six models planned for limited release and testing.  Ford, Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi have new electric or plug-in hybrid models coming out this year, with Ford and Toyota each offering two new models this year. 

Innovations in EV technology, production economies of scale and rising gasoline prices continue to improve the value proposition for EVs.  In just one example, an important breakthrough announced by GM-backed Envia will reduce the cost of EVs most expensive component–the battery–while extending driving range.

Electric vehicles can be fueled by almost anything, from wind and solar to natural gas power, which makes them possibly our greatest asset in any effort to reduce our dependence on foreign fuel supplies.  For all the increased oil production in the U.S. over the past few years, our domestic supplies remain a drop in the bucket compared with our consumption.

Electric vehicles aren’t just about saving money or achieving energy independence.  A number of recent studies, such as the latest from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, find that vehicle electrification is a necessary part of any meaningful strategy to fight climate change.  

Fortunately, the future for electric vehicles remains bright.  But don’t believe us, just ask the automakers.  “Most major auto manufacturers have announced their EV and/or PHEV production plans, which add up to 0.9 million units by 2015 and about 1.4 million units per year by 2020,” wrote Lew Fulton Senior Transport Analyst at the IEA.

Whatever politically motivated attacks may be aimed at EVs, and whatever shortcomings these revolutionary new vehicles may display, one thing is certain: the move to EVs represents a rebirth of confidence in American innovation, workers, and competitive manufacturing.  It also marks an irreversible national commitment to building a cleaner, more fuel-efficient transportation system for a prosperous American future.

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