Ecocity World Summit 2008, April 22-26, 2008, San Francisco, CA
Electric Drive Answer to Oil Dependence:
Transportation Technologies & Policies to Displace Oil with Electricity
April 22, 2008. 9:30-11:30am, Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562, Washington DC
Growing Cooler: Policies for Climate-Friendly Development
April 25, 2008. 10:00 am -12:00 pm, Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253, Washington DC
Commission Releases Report on Future of U.S. Surface Transportation
National Surface Policy and Revenue Study Commission, charged with
examining the future of federal funding and policy for surface
transportation in the United States has released its final report, Transportation for Tomorrow.
The report addresses, in particular, impending shortfalls in the
Federal Highway Trust fund, projected at $3.2 billion in fiscal year
2009 and rising in subsequent years. The report makes several key
transportation investments from all sources—federal, state, and local--
at least $225 billion per year for the next 50 years, up from a current
figure of less than $100 billion.
a National Surface Transportation Commission to help develop a national
transportation strategy and advise Congress on its implementation. The
Commission would consist of ten presidential appointees, serving six
year terms, and would oversee Department of Transportation policy
decisions. The Commission would represent a strong federal role in
national transportation planning, evidenced in part by consolidation of
the 108 current transportation programs into ten federal programs.
Though state and metropolitan transportation agencies would continue to
play lead roles, the U.S. Department of Transportation would work with
them to coordinate transportation plans to align with a national
an incremental increase in the federal gas tax by five to eight cents
per gallon per year for five years, indexed to inflation thereafter, in
order to fund federal transportation investment for the first 20
years. The Commission recommends that other funding mechanisms be
developed to diversify and enhance revenue sources beyond the initial
measures to increase the efficiency and accountability of
transportation funding based on performance and transportation
outcomes, as opposed to the current need-based approach. The report
proposes a streamlined project review and delivery process including
elimination of redundant project evaluations and reduction of
members of the commission, including Transportation Secretary Mary
Peters, submitted a dissenting minority report, citing an increase in
the gas tax and a stronger federal role in transportation, among other
issues, as faulty policy. At a hearing before the House Appropriations
Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Subcommittee, Secretary
Peters noted the movement away from gasoline as a fuel, the political
difficulty of raising taxes, and the need to diversify revenue sooner
rather than later as reasons for the minority’s disagreement with the
Study Predicts Impact of Climate Change on Transportation Infrastructure
study recently released by the National Research Council found that
transportation infrastructure in the United States will face a number
of costly challenges in coming years as a result of global and regional
changes in climate. Much of this would come as a result of potential
increased flooding in coastal and low-lying areas due to increasingly
intense storms and sea-level rise. The destruction of coastal wetlands
that would normally reduce the impact of storm surges and rising
population in coastal areas will exacerbate these effects, the report
The report also suggests that
historical climate data generally used by planners may become outdated
as weather patterns change and become less predicable. The report
encourages transportation agencies to begin taking these changes into
consideration in all aspects of their work, from design to maintenance.
addition to flooding concerns, other climate changes may be detrimental
to transportation infrastructure and the movement of passengers and
freight. More frequent droughts could impact inland shipping routes
within the United States, such as the Mississippi River system, and
stronger storms could pose increased risks and costs to ocean-going
freight traffic. More frequent and intense heat waves may create added
stresses for materials used in transportation infrastructure. The
report also describes potential impacts from wildfires and increased
frequency and magnitude of earth slides.
study recommends public and private actions to adapt to potential
climate changes, including research into new design and planning
techniques, identification and evaluation of new high-risk and
high-impact areas, and increased coordination among local, state, and
A related study by
the U.S. Department of Transportation focused on the impacts to the
Gulf Coast region, its vulnerability to climate impacts, and its
importance as a transportation hub, has also been released recently.
U.S. Gasoline Consumption Slackens
compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy indicates that price
increases, a slowing economy, and other factors are having an effect on
gasoline consumption in the United States, consistent with other
analysis the total number of miles that Americans drive each year
leveling off, at least temporarily, after a long-term upward trend.
a six-week period during January and February, the nation’s gasoline
consumption dropped 1.1 percent compared to the same period in 2007.
With the exception of the period following Hurricane Katrina which
disrupted supplies, this one-year decline is the largest sustained drop
in gasoline use in more than 16 years. Historically, gasoline
consumption has trended upward despite spikes in gasoline prices.
Factors such as the strength of the economy and expectations that
prices would eventually fall again have made consumer behavior
stubbornly insensitive to price fluctuations when it comes to
Some sources have suggested,
however, that substantial and prolonged price increases, together with
other factors, could change this pattern. Studies by the Congressional
Budget Office indicate that a 10 percent price increase alone would
lead to less than a one percent reduction in consumption in the
short-term. If the same price change were sustained over many years,
however, that estimate rises to nearly four percent.
the total number of miles driven by passenger vehicles and light trucks
has climbed an average of one to two percent a year for more than two
decades. Recent data, however, shows that trend has unexpectedly
leveled off in the past few years. Minnesota, for example, reports
that measures of total miles traveled by passenger automobiles have
held constant for the past four years. This, the Minnesota Department
of Transportation notes, is a significant factor to consider in state
transportation planning, revenue projections for state and federal
gasoline taxes, and transportation models being prepared for state
climate action plans.
Record gas prices
also seem to be triggering Americans to begin rethinking their major
purchases. The past two years have seen sustained drops in sales of
larger vehicles and increases in smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
Developed Countries No Longer in the Driver Seat on Oil Prices
by the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that oil consumption
by major industrialized countries such as the United States, Europe,
and Japan may no longer have a dominant influence on oil prices. Other
factors, notably demand from developing countries and rising costs of
oil extraction, now appear to be driving price trends in the global oil
IEA experts had predicted that
slight declines in demand in industrialized countries would ease
pressure on world oil prices. Cumulative demand for the 30 countries
that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD), of which the United States is a member, slipped by 0.2 percent
in 2007, according to the Department of Energy. Instead, crude oil
prices have risen dramatically, 19 percent in February of this year
alone and exceeding the previous inflation-adjusted record of $102.81
per barrel set in April 1980 during the Iranian oil crisis.
growth in developing nations—coupled with a shift away from
manufacturing and declining oil intensity in the economies of
industrialized countries—suggests their influence on the market is
likely to increase. The IEA predicts that 70 percent of the world’s
oil will be consumed by developing countries by 2030.
some analysts are suggesting that current oil prices are partly due to
investor speculation, rising demand in the developing world does not
show any sign of abating, which could mean high oil prices for the
foreseeable future regardless of demand by western countries.
Incentive to Buy Fuel-Efficient Vehicles to Resurface in California Legislature
of proposed legislation that would provide an incentive for consumers
to purchase more fuel-efficient cars and light trucks are planning to
reintroduce an amended bill in the California State Assembly later in
the legislative session. The bill was introduced in January, but was
withdrawn without a vote. According to Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, the
bill needed four more votes to pass.
California Clean Car Discount Act would establish the nation’s first
“feebate” law and require auto retailers to either offer a discount or
charge a fee based on the fuel economy of purchased vehicles. Vehicles
with low fuel economy ratings would be assessed a one-time fee, up to
$2,500 for the worst offenders. The additional fee would be used to
fund comparable rebates on cars and light trucks that achieve
higher-than-average fuel efficiency.
“feebate” concept was developed as a mechanism to capture the long-term
fuel cost savings from higher efficiency vehicles at the point of
purchase. The concept also is being touted as an important
market-based tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the
transportation sector, with one study showing the law would achieve
reductions up to 25 percent. Several other states, including New
Mexico, Arizona, and Montana, have recommended similar programs in
their state plans to address climate change. None, however, have as
yet adopted such a program. If passed in California, the state’s Air
Resources Board would develop a rating scale for all car models.
Impact of Plug-In Vehicles on Electric Grid “Manageable”
studies examining the potential of the U.S. electric grid to support
expanded use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) suggest that
demand could be met by the grid’s existing capacity if managed
properly. Stan Hadley of Oak Ridge National Laboratories studied 182
possible scenarios where PHEVs had expanded to penetrate 25 percent of
the automotive market. His study determined that the number of
additional power plants required to meet the added demand could range
anywhere from zero to 160. The wide discrepancy hinges primarily on
when consumers would choose to charge their vehicles.
best case scenario relies on staggered charging of vehicles during
night-time hours when demand for electricity is typically at lowest
levels. This scenario potentially could require no additional
generation capacity (i.e. no new electric power plants would need to be
built). Hadley notes, however, “that assumption doesn’t necessarily
take into account human nature. Consumers' inclination will be to plug
in when convenient, rather than when utilities would prefer. Utilities
will need to create incentives to encourage people to wait. There are
also technologies such as 'smart' chargers that know the price of
power, the demands on the system and the time when the car will be
needed next to optimize charging for both the owner and the utility
that can help too."
The worst-case scenario
analyzed a situation where all PHEV owners would choose to begin
charging their vehicles at five o’clock in the afternoon. Projections
that assume less optimal use of the grid show an increase in capacity
would be necessary to meet the additional demand.
related study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimated
that converting 70 percent of cars, pickup trucks, vans and sport
utility vehicles now on the road in the United States to plug-in
vehicles could be accommodated with existing electric generation and
distribution capacity, if charged “off-peak”, meaning actual charging
would occur primarily at night.
development and deployment of intelligent grid management systems or
“smart grid” technology would likely be an important component in
widespread use of plug-in vehicles. Such technologies would enhance
power management and storage across the grid in order to supply and
distribute electricity with optimum efficiency. A recent test
performed by Duke Energy and GridPoint Inc. demonstrated that the smart
grid technology could improve grid performance by dictating what time
the vehicle would begin to charge regardless of what time it was
Capturing Waste Heat May Help Raise Fuel Economy
idea of thermoelectric generation is not a new one. Using temperature
differences to generate electric current has been a feature of certain
types of refrigerators, air-conditioners, and other products for
years. There is, however, growing interest that this technology could
be used to increase fuel economy in cars and trucks, particularly as
hybrid vehicles that combine a gasoline engine and an electric drive
motor become more common. Vehicles would be equipped to use heat
energy from the exhaust system that is normally wasted and convert it
According to Mike
Rowe of the School of Engineering at Cardiff University in Wales, this
technology could reduce fuel consumption initially by five percent.
Research done at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden,
Colorado shows potential fuel savings as large as 12 percent in cars,
perhaps even more in heavy-duty trucks.
five to twelve percent gain in fuel economy would equate with a gain of
approximately one to four miles per gallon. Combined with other
advancements in vehicle and fuel technology as well as other strategies
to increase the efficiency of the transportation system, such
technology could make an important contribution toward reducing oil
consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Eurostar Reports Increase in Rail Ridership, Greenhouse Gas Benefits
data suggest more travelers in Europe are opting for high-speed rail
over air travel. Eurostar, a passenger train company serving the UK
and Northern Europe, reported a 15 percent increase in ridership on its
high-speed routes in 2007. The company cited several reasons for the
upturn in rail ridership, touting efforts to increase comfort, shorten
travel times, improve on-time performance, and generally ease passenger
frustrations. Meanwhile, data for flights originating in Great Britain
to other parts of Europe show passenger air travel falling by
approximately 2 percent over the same time period.
addition, Eurostar noted that train travel produces one-tenth of the
carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per passenger-mile produced by air
travel. Eurostar is working toward reducing its CO2 output by 25
percent by 2012 while it also purchases carbon “offsets” for the
emissions it does create to make all of its trips nominally “carbon
Another rail operator, SNCF
in France, has begun using advanced “hybrid” trains, which they say
will use 30 percent less energy than its previous trains. Similar to
hybrid automobiles, these trains employ electric motors powered by
lithium battery packs charged through regenerative braking to increase
their energy efficiency. Eurostar also notes that it pursues other
environmentally-friendly practices such as recycling waste, collecting
and using rain water, using energy efficient lighting and heating, and
purchasing locally grown and organic food.
air carriers have sought to remove amenities to cut costs, rail
companies such as Eurostar have added perks such as DVD rentals, free
newspapers and magazines, and electric plugs. Trains also boast more
leg room and fully-reclining seats. Customers are reporting greater
convenience and less hassle as factors in choosing rail over air
travel. Rail stations are often easier to access than many airports.
Delays due to weather and connecting flights or trains are also
generally less significant for rail travel.
speed of rail travel has trended upward in Europe. Travel times have
been reduced by as much as two hours in some cases due to new tunnels
and routes. Intercity express trains reach speeds of almost 200 miles
per hour. Europe is undergoing a proliferation of new rail lines,
2,600 miles of rail are currently under construction and 5,300 miles
are being planned.
Daimler, General Motors to Introduce Lithium Ion Hybrid Models
has announced that it intends to roll out a hybrid Mercedes-Benz sedan
in 2009 that utilizes lithium ion batteries. Meanwhile, General Motors
is expected to soon announce revamped hybrid versions of the Saturn
Aura and Chevy Malibu models which also will use lithium ion technology.
ion batteries, presently used to power many consumer electronic
products such as laptop computers, are considered to be the next major
step forward for hybrid vehicles, replacing the heavier and less
powerful nickel-metal hydride batteries found in current hybrid
vehicles. Their benefits, however, do not come without a price.
Lithium ion batteries currently cost approximately 40 percent more to
produce than comparable nickel-metal hydride batteries, while
durability, charging limitations, and overheating issues are being
addressed through continued research and development.
manufacturers are counting on these problems being resolved before the
release of new hybrid models to be equipped with lithium ion
technology—including the Chevrolet Volt, GM’s highly-anticipated
plug-in hybrid vehicle, which is expected to be on the market in 2010.
GM currently offers four hybrid models. GM also reports that moving to
a lithium ion battery system will provide an opportunity for efficiency
gains in the belt alternator starter system in current models.
does not yet have a hybrid vehicle on the market, having invested first
in high-performing diesel engines, including its “BlueTec” system which
achieves dramatic reductions in air pollutant emissions over earlier
Carbon Footprint of Outlying Development Projects Sparks Controversy
states and municipalities are being challenged by environmental and
other public interest groups to consider the carbon “footprint” of
potential land development projects in their permit review processes.
Planners and regulators from California to Maine are being asked to
take a comprehensive look at the total greenhouse gas impacts of
projects under consideration—from the results of tree-clearing to
construction waste to transportation-related emissions.
latest case is a battle over a proposed development in Maine’s
Moosehead Lake region that would clear 14,000 acres and emit an
estimated 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in its first 50 years
of existence, according to Environment Northeast, a non-profit
organization based in New England. This estimate includes carbon
emissions from automobile travel induced by attracting new residents to
the remote area, which lies about 90 miles northwest of Bangor.
Creek Timber Company, the potential developer of the site, counters
that their proposal would place over 400,000 acres of forest under a
conservation easement. The case raises new questions about what
variables to consider when evaluating cumulative environmental impacts
In the Seattle area, several
high-end homes were set ablaze by arsonists, apparently to protest the
excessive energy use and climate change impacts of the project ,
despite the fact that these particular buildings had received
certification as “Built Green.” The certification was based on their
use of recycled and sustainable materials, organic landscaping, and
natural lighting, among other attributes. However, they were also
almost two and a half times larger than the average area house and were
located well to the northeast of Seattle, calling into question their
Most of the debate,
however, about the impact of large development projects in outlying
areas is happening in hearings and other public forums. Few states
currently have laws on the books to curb development based on
greenhouse gas emissions, though a majority of states have initiated or
adopted state climate change action plans with goals to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions. According to Dr. Reid Ewing of the
University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Research and
Education, “Climate change will be the defining issue for urban
planning and land development in the years ahead. It will trump
Green Is the Theme at the Geneva International Motor Show
green!” Thus began the opening ceremony speech of the 78th Geneva
International Motor Show President, Luc Argand, on March 6. President
Argand expressed great optimism regarding the future possibilities in
reducing CO2 emissions in the automotive world.
this green wave has become a tidal wave. Ecology is no longer
perceived as being marginal, like a fleeting fashion; it is associated
with the real economy, the production of daily consumer goods, with the
quality of life and our future,” he noted. The show featured a number
of alternatively fueled cars by manufacturers such as Toyota, Volvo,
and Cadillac. The event also featured the International Advanced
Mobility Forum, a seminar where experts from across Europe and the
world exchanged ideas and discussed new technologies.
Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz and Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe
also spoke at the Geneva show. They both promoted the viability and
technological promise of electric drive vehicles, citing steady
progress in lithium ion battery technology, while casting doubts on the
feasibility of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Both Toyota and
GM have invested considerable research and development capacity as well
as marketing resources into hybrid electric vehicles, while GM has also
been engaged in development and field testing of hydrogen vehicles (see
February 2008 edition of Clean Motion).
Eco-City World Summit
April 22-26, 2008, San Francisco, CA
Ecocity World Summit bringing together sustainability experts, leading
innovators, decisionmakers, technologists, businesses, organizations
and individual participants offer long-range solutions to global
ecological issues. Convened during Earth Day Week, April 22-26, 2008,
creative change-makers will address problems of the world's environment
and frame long-term economic, environmental, and socially equitable
Electric Drive Answer to Oil Dependence:
Transportation Technologies & Policies to Displace Oil with Electricity
April 22, 2008. 9:30-11:30am
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 562
Congressional briefing and panel discussion of how federal policies can
accelerate the mainstreaming of efficient, clean electric drive
technology, reduce U.S. dependence on oil and cut emissions of
greenhouse gases. www.electricdrive.org
Growing Cooler :
Policies for Climate-Friendly Development
April 25, 2008. 10:00-12:00 pm
Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253
Congressional briefing and panel discussion on the link between urban
development, transportation, and greenhouse gas emissions and federal
policies to help cities, towns, and urbanized regions reduce their
carbon footprint. www.eesi.org
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