Time to Demand More From Power Providers
By Fritz Maffry
Why are some utility companies dragging their heels when it comes to adapting to the energy needs of the 21st century?
By any reasonable evaluation the progress of electric vehicle capabilities and economics has been remarkable. In 2010 the average Leaf lease was around $460 dollars a month, now it is offered widely at $140 a month with a substantially improved vehicle. The Mitsubishi i model, is now said to be offered for $69 a month. These numbers are reported in the latest edition of Time magazine.
It is my contention that the product is moving very fast and very successfully forward, from vehicles to battery tech. On the policy and infrastructure development front a much less impressive outcome has been the result of a variety of non execution elements. GM was given something like 15 billion to accelerate and support their vehicle electrification efforts, Ford 6 billion, Nissan 2 billion. That is bearing fruit.
On the infrastructure front, innovation has been much less robust, and at the core of that issue is the control model of utilities over the budgets for infrastructure development. The essence of what private monopolies here have been working through is an inherently conflicted role, they want control, are by nature cautious, and have no innovation machinery of their own by definition. What they can do is effectively lobby on local and state basis, and even nationally through organizations like the Electric Drive Association to get key control over funds for electric vehicle infrastructure development.
It would be hard to conceive of a more conflicted and less innovative structure than monopoly utilities. But somehow the public money for the purpose of ushering in a remarkable new national purpose was designated to entities that are overly swayed by utility special interest.
So billions have been slowly mobilized, usually for purposes more about the comfort of utilities than to usher in a bold efforts to build a truly practical option to a global oil dependence energy model and the endless wars and oil shocks that come with that. It is simple to cite Syria, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Mali, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and other quite volatile "hot spots" as dynamics justifying a profound national purpose that would require us to prepare for global consequences of dependence.
There are discussions about subsidies or practicalities of the electric vehicle market, same about solar energy, but the results and trends keep supporting that this is the direction of the future, at least in terms of a major component driving our energy and security strategy. If anything close to the current battery price/performance science program is achieved, this changes a great deal about energy, economics, oil dependence, the environment, etc. that is again aligned with our great national purpose. Already this is becoming central to US international strategy.
But reducing oil consumption or reducing coal powered energy here in the US, while other regions rapidly expand is really just displacing the dependence, and the negative consequences. For example, too many new coal plants in Southeast Asia and India, really don't help us in the long run as we all breathe the same atmosphere, and that atmosphere is a shared global factor fundamental and of consequence to all of us.
As a country that has been involved in four oil shocks in seven years, two trillion dollars wars raging for over a decade, we have interest in new directions to solve our future. The tech industry is increasingly weighing in on energy and transportation with a new model of smart, connected electric transportation that works with renewables and smart cloud applications. The future here is sooner than people realize, many aspects will be shown to market in 2013 and 2014.
Tesla showed the world the promise of solar charging stations, in 2013 it is expected that there will be 10x growth in that market, and I would contend that 20x in fact might be the real growth number. firms like Google and Dell, GE and others have been refining this model for sometime, but the element of widespread electric vehicle availability coupled with substantially reduced solar prices will drive innovation and advanced capabilities here that make attractive setting the price and availability of energy for 30 years with every installation.
The federal executive order should have borne more results, but bureaucracies got in the way, instead of enabling small innovation examples that made the public go wow. It has been a shame that for a good deal of the time, there was partisan slamming of the electric vehicle initiative at every turn, well the future is just proving those cynical views irrelevant and wrong minded. Today in Kansas City will be the warmest January 28th of all time by recorded numbers. The Missouri river is said to be at the lowest level of all times in recorded measurements. Some want perfect proof that there is climate change occurring. If you examine that perspective closer, it is like saying we want to see the patient die of lung cancer to know that smoking has a consequence. Is that really the best we can do.
So the industry marches on, local politicians don't even register this on their list of priorities in this region, where is the think global, act local dimension of an aligned nation. In Kansas City a 2500 employee federal facility goes online soon, The executive order that 100% of federal fleet be alternative by 2015 is low hanging fruit, They have the mandate and the practical opportunity of new facilities. How are they intending to meet their assigned target, have they embraced that. You could say the same about every federal facility, but that brings up the matter of what is the local and state responsibility in aligning on this issue.
Very soon there will be strong pressures to have to justify the action or lack of action on these matters. The money was given, what have the results been and who was in responsibility in executing on that national purpose?
I would contend there is a coming tech revolution that will be quite remarkable, but a combination of the internet of things, instantaneous ultra high definition large format media, clean renewables with smart connected electric vehicles, smart cloud open source applications with low cost accessibility and facilitative end to end processes, advanced materials coming out of breakthroughs in silicon and carbon technologies, Also with the abundance of gas from the combination technical breakthroughs of horizontal drilling and appropriate fracking we can expect inexpensive advanced materials in abundance with the US having a price and logistical advantage over the world. The fantastic acceleration of advanced robotics and 3d printing for rapid prototyping combined with computer driven manufacturing means we will see a cycle of rapid innovation that is remarkable. For example, just one firm is already talking about one million robots in their own facilities, yes that is one million robots for just one company.
The early tide is coming in on these technologies, but high tide is coming, and we can not have a gating of progress, by non execution bureaucracies nor by private monopolies on how we prepare and benefit from this coming force of change. We can guide it with well shaped thoughtful direction, or not.
Working with literally dozens of very practical people every day, on how the practical issues are sorting out, we see this is not science fiction, this is happening right now. Silicon Valley gets it, soon we all will. When I see the practical demonstrations of vehicles wirelessly charging, and vehicles getting all their energy from the sun, to sub 10k electrics coming available over next two years, it is testimony to the talents of mankind to advance,
People will recognize the sea change at high tide, but the tide on all this is coming in now, in early ripples, get ready for a torrent. In closing, I would offer that the whole effect in concert of these technical disruptors is not understood or appreciated at the local or state level in Kansas or Missouri, that will change soon. Do we as a region drive and embrace the forces at hand, or do we react as laggards, that is the question. We have never been talking about premature massive deployment, or subsidy as a way of life for the industry. But front loading enablers and incentives, and developing refined, well sorted examples should in my opinion be the policy of the land, locally, by state, and of great national purpose. We have not heard better alternatives, and we expect as much from those who aspire to lead.
Originally published: 07 Feb 2013
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