With our focus on energy efficiency and reliability for facilities and industry, we don’t often discuss the energy demands related to transportation. But the advancements of fuel cells for vehicles and smart grid models that incorporate cars as backup power generators illustrate that there’s a certain amount of overlap between the two. Which begs the question—when it comes to applying new energy technologies to existing models, what can we learn from the automobile industry?
Traveling along our highways and byways are constant reminders of our dependence on fossil fuels. But if you look closely, you can see the signs of change, here and there, zigzagging between the SUVs and the minivans: the hybrid, the electric car, the biodiesel VW van. In fact, just this week it was announced that the Chevy Volt has been awarded “Car of the Year” at the Detroit auto show.
As demand for alternative fuel vehicles increase and we push towards meeting the renewable energy and biofuel goals of the ‘‘Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007’’ (H.R. 6), the automobile industry could morph into the game changer: the industry that makes it cheaper and easier to substitute traditional energy supplies with renewable energy (in the form of biofuels).
There are, of course, some hurdles that must first be cleared. According to a recent study by Purdue University, our country’s current focus on ethanol to meet H.R. 6’s renewable fuel quota is hindering our ability to develop other—more environmentally sound—biofuel alternatives. And all this ethanol is further hindering our ability to meet the future renewable fuel goals set by EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Specifically, the RFS calls for 14 billion gallons of biofuel in our vehicle fleet by 2011, with an increase to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The hope is that by meeting these benchmarks, the US will create a viable renewable fuel industry, while at the same time increasing our energy security by decreasing our dependence on oil.
And it’s here where we find the overlap with our own concerns. In much the same way as the RFS goals, a successful distributed energy system—whether it’s a small-scale project or a wide-scale deployment as part of a larger smart energy infrastructure—is one that will encourage renewable energy innovation while securing the reliability and safety of our power systems.
So what do you think? Is it possible that moving the focus of biofuel technology away from ethanol and towards other sources will open up new possibilities for onsite power systems that currently rely on traditional fuel? And what about all those electric vehicles plugged into the grid—are they truly making us more efficient if they are still tied to traditional electric systems and thus pulling their power from a different version of the same fossil fuels available at the pump?