Saturday, August 2, 2008

Hybrid Cars Aren't Enough

I was walking my dog Stosh this morning and came across two neighbors, each going in separate directions. The conversation immediately drifted to hybrid cars and how soon Americans would adopt them, particularly the plug-in variety:

Bob: The oil companies are panicking. Have you seen all of their advertising? They realize that plug-in hybrids are just around the corner and they are trying to tell people they won't work. (He already owns a Honda Civic Hybrid)

Ed: Just like they did with the electric car (referring to the film "Who killed the electric car.")

Me: I think they are advertising because they are swimming in money. I think Exxon-Mobil is making about $2 billion in profit per quarter (I haven't checked lately).

Bob: And do you know why T. Boone Pickens is pushing windpower?

Me: He stands to make a lot of money because he owns a lot of land where there's a lot of wind?

Bob: That's right and he knows the oil industry's days are numbered.

Me: It's doesn't matter what he thinks or how much Americans move into hybrids. For every hybrid bought here, the Chinese and Indians are making hundreds of small conventional cars. Just look at Tata Motors in India. They are going to be the GM of cheap cars. They're going to sell them for $2,000 to $4,000.

Ed: I think I heard about them.

Bob: I still think that plug-ins are going to take over the market.

Me: We'll need to fix the grid. It can't handle all those cars. They'll need to update it and make it smarter. I'd like to see solar panels on garage roofs. That way you won't need the grid. Store the power by day in batteries and recharge at night.

Bob: I think they should have recharging stations all over that just exchange the batteries.

Me: I don't think that would work.

Bob: We need to do something.

Let's get beyond the big idea of hybrids and think holistically. Here are some ideas:

1) Rewriting the major transportation funding bills to finance public transportation, bike trails, sidewalks and light rail. High-speed rail using interstate median right-of-ways still makes sense for trips under 500 miles. Today most of that money goes to building more and more roads.

2) Restructuring energy policy to fund the national energy labs to create an array of alternative energy solutions and technologies, including cheap, light, quickly-recharged batteries that can hold power a long time. We need a DARPA for energy that has some goals.

3) Creating more incentives for employers to let employees work from home and telecommute. I was having lunch with my friend from the Sierra Club the other day and he was proud of the fact he biked to work. My commute: 50 feet. Except for the carbon dioxide I exhale, it's pretty carbon neutral.

4) Creating more incentives for local economies. Why does it make sense to buy produce at the supermarket that's shipped thousands of miles when you can purchase the same thing from local farmers? Even in the winter, can't we provide more tax breaks for greenhouses? A woman in our neighborhood did that one winter and we had fresh lettuce delivered to our door that was grown a block away -- in January. It tasted like caviar. Better yet, let's make gardening a national priority in the suburbs. I started some swiss chard, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, melon and cucumbers this year, roughly tripling what I normally grow in the same space.

Backyard food is better food. I irrigate with rainwater and use natural methods of pest control. We had our first crop of apricots this year. The chard was outstanding!

As for driving a hybrid, I have a 1995 Geo Prizm that gets great mileage because I fill it up once a month. I drive as little as possible and try to bike and walk as much as possible. The best mileage car is the one you don't drive!

No comments: