Earley: Think bigger on electric vehicles
Of all history’s surprises in recent years, few have been as unexpected — or as uplifting — as the incredible about-face in our country’s energy outlook. In just the last decade, breakthroughs in areas from natural gas extraction to renewable power have suddenly put the U.S. in the driver’s seat when it comes to building a cleaner, more secure energy future for our kids and grandkids.
Getting there, however, will require that we actively work to seize and take advantage of the opportunities that technology is creating for us. And arguably none are bigger or more strategically important than the benefits we could reap by electrifying America’s transportation sector, from controlling greenhouse gas emissions to reducing our reliance on oil.
Electric drive technologies have improved dramatically in recent years. The number of charging stations in the country has multiplied from fewer than 6,000 to more than 20,000. And the cost of batteries, the biggest factor influencing the cost of plug-in vehicles, is moving in the right direction.
Still, as encouraging as these trends are, we should be working to fast-track additional progress. If we’re serious about building the bridge to broader electrification in transportation, a coalition of key players, from automakers to policymakers, utilities and others, must be willing to step up and commit to actions that will further advance the technologies and develop the marketplace.
One major step would be putting a long-term price signal in place for carbon emissions. California has a cap-and-trade program for the power sector that has worked quite well, with manageable consumer impacts. The program is planned to expand soon to the transportation sector.
But whether it’s cap-and-trade or another strategy, creating a price signal or reduction target for carbon must be part of the long-term strategy for addressing greenhouse gas emissions. And it would significantly drive the shift to electric transportation.
Another step is focusing on creating electric-drive products that fit the needs of large public- and private-sector fleet operators, whose buying power and purchasing commitments can help support development costs and allow automakers to scale up production.
Utilities, for example, are committed to helping to drive that innovation through our own efforts and by helping invest in the grid to support our customers’ desire to go electric. At the White House a couple of weeks ago, 70 of the country’s biggest utilities — including DTE Energy — announced a commitment to spend at least $250 million over the next five years on plug-in fleet technology.
A third step is working together to expand the nation’s charging infrastructure. Pacific Gas & Electric is helping make chargers available at the workplace and other public locations in California; dozens of other utilities are doing the same in their areas, including DTE.
Lastly, we need to do more to raise awareness of the advantages that EVs offer — not just in terms of societal benefits, but also as first-rate consumer products. EVs offer lower maintenance and operating costs, a quieter ride and an overall great driving experience. I’ve learned all of this for myself after recently buying my own plug-in. When I charge my vehicle at PG&E’s EV rate, I’m filling up at the equivalent of a dollar per gallon.
If we’re smart about continuing to drive further advances and wider adoption of this electric drive technology, we can create a better energy future than most of us ever imagined possible. Automakers, utilities and policy makers can help get us there by working together to support this vision.
Tony Earley is chairman, CEO and president of Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Earley was previously executive chairman of DTE Energy, and serves on the board of Ford Motor Co.