State of the Solar Union

Who to Look For at the SOTU

When the camera moves across the gallery during tonight’s State of the Union, keep an eye out for two Arizona leaders in clean, renewable energy. Dr. Jeffery Britt, head of Tucson-based Global Solar will be there as a guest of Representative Gabriele Giffords (D-AZ). Donald Karner, the CEO of Phoenix’s own eTec, will be in the gallery, too, invited by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Global Solar

Thin-film solar cell

Britt’s company produces a variety of solar products, using the thin-film solar cells manufactured at its twin Tucson plants. One plant is powered by a 750 kW solar field.

“After working for many years in the solar energy industry,” Britt said earlier today.

“I am particularly interested to learn about the president’s proposals on renewable energy. Besides energy, there are so many critical national issues at stake now – health care, jobs, the economy – that make this a truly historic moment. I suspect that passion will be running high in the president and all the members of Congress. Television just cannot capture those feelings. I’m grateful to Congresswoman Giffords for giving me the opportunity to be present at this event.”


eTec charging stations

Donald Karner’s company should be familiar to Phoenix Sun readers. We’ve reported several times on eTec’s work designing, building and deploying new-generation battery chargers for electric vehicles.

eTec received nearly $100 million in stimulus funds to (I can’t help myself) jump-start the EV industry with charging stations being built in four states, primarily along highway corridors between major cities. eTec is installing several chargers along Interstate 10, for example, between Phoenix and Tucson.

It’s an exciting moment for clean, renewable energy in general and for solar power in particular. As the Senate drags its collective feet on passing a climate bill, companies like Global Solar and eTec are helping to reshape our economy, climate and even our way of life.

If you want to know the state of the Union, tune in tonight. When the camera is pointed at the gallery, you may get a good glimpse of the positive changes already underway here in Arizona — and throughout the Nation.

Update | Luntz Responds to Allegations (but doesn’t answer my questions)

Update – 1/23 Frank Luntz comments on my True/Slant piece…

…but ducks the hard questions: Where’s the data that shows he conducted a creditable poll on climate change? My guess is he’s still playing the “parlor games” that caused the rift with the National Council on Public Polls. You can read his comment, and my reply at True/Slant, here.

Spinning, spinning, spun.

Maybe it’s the illusion of getting the real inside information, the dope that only a double agent can provide, that has led green groups to buy into Frank Luntz’s con-game. This is the guy, after all, who advised the Bush administration to magnify scientific disagreements about climate change as a way to avoid actually doing something about the real problem. Never mind that sowing doubt had been the propaganda tool of choice for industries like Big Tobacco going back decades.

Which headline do you think will sell more papers?

Word Guru Shapes White House Policy


Man States Obvious

Sadly, some green groups are buying Luntz’s snake oil. And the media misses the real story — that Luntz has been twice admonished by professional polling organizations for sub-standard (and in one case, unethical) work. Not too surprising when you realize that Luntz’s study on communicating about climate change was commissioned by the News Corporation, parent company of Fox News.

Read the sordid details of Luntz’s scam here.

Study| Electric Cars Show “Great Promise” in Fight Against Global Warming

Kyocera's employee parking lot, San Diego. The solar panels on the roofs generates power to charge plug-in cars during the work day. Photo by Envision Solar.

A new study by Environment America finds that electric vehicles (EVs) could do a lot to fight global warming and clean up the urban smog that contributes to respiratory and heart problems. But, the report concludes, changes in public policy are needed to make the switch from internal combustion to all electric vehicles on a mass scale.

Environment America is a national coalition of environmental groups in 25 states.

To download the full report, click on the graphic at the bottom of this page.

Executive Summary

America’s current fleet of gasoline-powered cars and trucks leaves us dependent on oil, contributes to air pollution problems that threaten our health, and produces large amounts of global warming pollution. “Plug-in” cars are emerging as an effective way to lower global warming emissions, oil use, and smog. A “plug-in” car is one that can be recharged from the electric grid. Some plug-in cars run on electricity alone, while others are paired with small gasoline engines to create plug-in hybrids. Many plug-in hybrids can get over 100 miles per gallon, while plug-in electric vehicles consume no gasoline at all.

As automakers race to become the first to introduce a mass production plug-in vehicle to American consumers, citizens and decision-makers are grappling to understand the implications of switching to a vehicle fleet fueled primarily by electricity for our environment, for consumers, and for the nation as a whole.

Plug-in vehicles show great promise for addressing the nation’s environmental and energy challenges. But it will take strong public policy action to help plug-in vehicles make the leap from promising technology to everyday reality for Americans.

Plug-in cars can make a major contribution to America’s efforts to reduce global warming pollution.

Public charging station, San Francisco. Photo by Siena Kaplan.

• More than 40 recent studies show that plug-in cars produce lower carbon dioxide than traditional gasoline-powered cars. One study by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) found that a car fueled by unused capacity in the current electric system would emit 27 percent less global warming pollution than a car fueled by gasoline.

• Studies also found that plug-in cars reduce global warming emissions even when electricity comes primarily from coal, because plug-in cars use energy more efficiently than conventional cars. The PNNL study found that plug-in cars would produce lower global warming emissions than conventional cars in almost every area of the country, using the current electric system.

• America can reduce emissions even further by making its electricity supply cleaner. A study by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that a plug-in hybrid with a 20 mile electric range running on completely clean electricity would emit less than half the global warming emissions of a plug-in hybrid running on electricity from coal-fired power plants.

Switching to plug-in cars will improve our air quality for most Americans.

• Replacing gasoline with electricity will reduce the smog found in our cities and other densely populated areas dramatically. The PNNL study found that powering cars on electricity instead of gasoline would reduce smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 93 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

• A study by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that if current emissions standards for power plants are enforced, converting 40 percent of U.S. cars to plug-in hybrids by 2030 would decrease smog for 61 percent of Americans, and increase it for 1 percent of Americans. Soot would decrease for 82 percent of the population, and increase for 3 percent of the population.

• Powering cars on clean electricity such as wind and solar power, either directly or via the electric grid, would eliminate smog in cities and highways with no increased power plant pollution.

Switching to plug-in cars will reduce oil consumption

• If three-fourths of the cars, pick-up trucks, SUVs and vans in the United States were powered by electricity, oil use would be reduced by the equivalent of 52 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Plug-in cars have many benefits and are quickly becoming practical for an increasing number of drivers

• Plug-in hybrids that have been converted from conventional hybrids already exist that achieve 100 miles per gallon or more.

Tesla Roadster

• Electric cars that can go over 200 miles on one charge are being sold in the United States today.

• Most plug-in cars can charge in a normal wall outlet found in many home garages, and rapid chargers have been developed that can fill a 100-mile battery in 10-15 minutes.

• Fueling plug-in cars costs two to five cents per mile, or the equivalent of $0.50 to $1.25 a gallon of gasoline.

• Fuel savings over a ten year period, compared with fuel costs for a conventional car, combined with a federal incentive, can reduce the lifetime cost of a plug-in car as much as $17,000.

• Electric cars are much simpler to maintain than conventional cars, with one moving part compared with the hundreds of moving parts required for an internal combustion engine. Electric cars have no oil changes, and require far fewer repairs.

• Plug-in hybrids are more expensive than conventional vehicles, but will become cheaper over time as battery technology improves and mass production is achieved.

America’s electric system has the capacity to fuel most of our cars today, and plug-in cars could make our grid more reliable and cleaner

• America’s electric system could fuel 73 percent of U.S. cars, pickup-up trucks, SUVs and vans without building another power plant, by charging vehicles at night.

Easy on the grid

• One million plug-in cars charging simultaneously would only use about 0.16 percent of America’s current electric capacity.

• Plug-in cars could help stabilize the electric grid and provide emergency backup power – reducing the cost of electricity for all consumers.

• If half our cars were plug-in hybrids whose batteries were available to utilities, wind power in the U.S. would double by 2050 through market forces alone, according to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This is because parked plug-in cars would provide electric storage capacity that could displace the backup generation capacity utilities would otherwise need to purchase to provide power when the wind isn’t blowing, lowering wind power’s cost.

There are still barriers to the widespread adoption of plug-in cars, but public policies can help to overcome those barriers.

• Despite rapid advances in battery technology over the past decade, automakers and battery developers still have strides to make in arriving at battery designs that deliver the range and affordability American consumers are looking for. Continued funding for research and development of advanced batteries can help.

• The cost of plug-in car prices will be high until they are mass produced. Consumer incentives for plug-in cars and government and fleet purchases can help spur the market for plug-ins, enabling them to achieve mass production more quickly.

• Plug-ins have the potential to deliver many economic benefits – from reducing the cost of electricity to curbing global warming pollution. State and federal governments should adopt policies – ranging from investments in “smart grid” technology to a cap on global warming pollution – that would unlock these benefits, and ensure that purchasers of plug-in vehicles are compensated for the benefits their choice delivers to society.

• The lack of public charging infrastructure – while not a deal-breaker for plug-in vehicle owners who can charge their cars at home – could limit the willingness of some consumers to buy or use plug-in vehicles. Local, state and federal governments should jump-start the creation of charging infrastructure by installing chargers at publicly owned facilities, developing procedures for the installation of chargers on city streets, and encouraging private development of charging infrastructure.

Governments should ensure that the electricity fueling plug-ins is increasingly clean and renewable.

The Sun's "green screen" test drive of the Nissan Leaf, before the real one.

• States and the federal government should enforce a low-carbon fuel standard, requiring that transportation fuels be 10 percent less carbon-intensive by 2020. When calculating global warming emissions, full lifecycle emissions such as indirect land use impacts should be included. This would encourage a switch to electricity as a fuel.

• States and the federal government should require that at least 25 percent of our electricity comes from clean and renewable sources like wind and solar by 2025.

• The federal government and states should strictly enforce current power plant emissions regulations, and fill any gaps in regulation, so that our air quality will continue to improve regardless of the amount of electricity produced.

• The nation should adopt a cap on global warming pollution that reduces emissions to 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

Click on image to download full report.