After more than a century of ruling the roads, oil is starting to lose its dominance over the auto industry. More and more automakers are introducing electric models, and according to one report, sales of electric cars will surpass those of regular cars within twenty-five years. China, India, France and the United Kingdom have all shown support for moving away from gas-powered vehicles. With Detroit embracing plug-in cars, electric utilities sense an opportunity to grow their business as the age of oil starts to sunset.
Climate One gathered representatives of the fossil fuel industry, electric utilities and the auto industry to talk about the future of personal mobility.
“We’re in each other’s swim lanes now,” says Cathy Reheis-Boyd of the Western States Petroleum Association. She talks about supporting a “shared vision” for a sustainable energy future.
“One of the things we ask ourselves is what is the type of energy mix that will give us the most affordable energy to the most people…that will deliver the best air quality improvements or climate change reductions of greenhouse gases…that will really talk about the economic side of the equation?”
“How do those three things mix together as we really plan for the future?”
“California has shown that it is possible to move away from fossil fuels,” says Carolyn Choi of Southern California Edison. “You see it very aggressively in the policy-making space…and so if California can show it can be done, the sixth largest economy in the world, it can be done elsewhere too.”
But can Americans really be persuaded to give up their roaring engines and mile-wide SUV’s? Choi says it may take some doing, especially when gas prices are low. But once they’ve tried it, she believes, they’ll be convinced.
“I mean, once you get into an electrical vehicle, and it’s smooth and it’s quiet and it’s fast -- you don’t want to actually go back into a gasoline vehicle,” she enthuses. “So it’s just getting that awareness, getting people into those cars, ride and drive those kinds of experiences, to have people make that switch.”
One audience member questioned the practicality of self-driven and electrically powered cars, posing an “agony or ecstasy” scenario. Will commute times double as robotic vehicles clog our roads? Will power rates surge as an entire city charges their Beemers at 5:00 pm? Or will those issues sort themselves out as the nation plugs into a blissfully sustainable future?
Andreas Klugescheid of BMW believes the needle will move towards the ecstatic side – as long as experts and regulators collaborate to work out the kinks. Not only is managed charging already a reality, he says, but robotic cars bring the promise of improved public safety.
“Autonomous driving actually will, to a large degree…bring down the issue of casualties and traffic,” Klugescheid predicts. “So more on the ecstatic side. But bear in mind that autonomous driving first and foremost is really about saving human lives.”
The potential is there, he adds. “But we need to do it together. That is super important.
“This is not about finger-pointing. The customer needs to be integrated, the regulator, the policymaker, the industry and also the energy colleagues, let it be utilities or let it be fossil.”
Reheis-Boyd agrees. “I do believe that if we answer those core questions together, we will get to the right shared energy future,” she concludes. “I think it's a transition of all of our mindsets together.”