Disruptive Technologies in Transport Fuels – Betting on Science

Accenture’s study, Betting on Science: Disruptive Technologies in Transport Fuels, identifies 12 technologies with potential to disrupt the current supply, demand, and GHG forecasts.

Accenture’s definition of disruptive technologies are those that are:

Scaleable: Greater than 20 percent potential impact on hydrocarbon fuel demand by 2030.

GHG impact: Savings greater than 30 percent relative to the hydrocarbon it is replacing.

Cost: Competitive at an oil price of $45 to $90 per barrel, at commercial date.

Time to market: Commercialization date in less than five years.

The technologies are divided into three groups: evolutionary, revolutionary and the game changer. 

Accenture identifies plug-in electric vehicles as the most disruptive of all technologies, thus identified as the game changer, with many opportunities that EVs could bring in optimizing generation and transportation resources.  Though without regulatory incentives, the up-front cost and performance of batteries may hinder performance. 


Summary of Key Findings: The Game Changer – Electrification


High potential, but battery cost and availability remain challenges. Plug-in electric vehicles have received increasing amounts of attention from government and industry, indicating they will be part of the future vehicle landscape, with Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) likely to be the most disruptive model within the next five years. PHEVs benefit from lower-running costs than both internal combustion engines and HEVs, as well as extended driving range over EVs, but the capital cost of the battery and availability limitations still need to be overcome for the economics to work favorably without regulatory incentives. Moreover, while PHEVs have the potential to be emission-free, the reduction in GHG emissions is highly dependent on the generation mix and will therefore vary by country. The ability of the grid to withstand PHEV penetration rates will further vary by country. However, using smart, off-peak charging, the grid will be able to manage initial PHEV penetration and enable load leveling for utilities.


Controlled charging infrastructure development benefiting from government support. Controlled charging enables utilities to manage energy demand more effectively and consumers to benefit from lower off-peak tariffs. This will be key in delivering the aspirations of widespread electrification of vehicles. Municipalities across the globe have announced ambitious roll-outs of charging point infrastructure. The growth of the controlled charging market will be heavily dependent on the uptake of plug-in electric vehicles and how incentives for the growth of PHEVs and EVs are driven/managed by policymakers and businesses.

Vehicle-to-grid (V2G)

A long-term opportunity, dependent on significant PHEV/EV scale. V2G is technically feasible with demonstration projects currently underway. These projects vary in focus, with some assessing the communications between the vehicle and the grid, some looking at how to maximize vehicle storage to increase the quantity of renewables being used, and some looking at a more integrated smart grid offering. All projects, albeit in the early stages, have proven that V2G has the potential to significantly disrupt the supply and demand relationships—with end-electricity consumers potentially becoming an essential grid storage resource—and change both the electric power and transport fuels landscapes. (emphasis added) However, to reach this potential, V2G is dependent upon the commercialization of electric-drive vehicles, cooperation between the various industry players, and the education of consumers. Initial electrification initiatives will determine the latter’s potential success.

See here for more information.

Innovation, not just Insulation

Bill Gates wrote about the challenges of reducing carbon, where he concludes “Conservation and behavior change alone will not get us to the dramatically lower levels of CO2 emissions needed to make a real difference. We also need to focus on developing innovative technologies that produce energy without generating any CO2 emissions at all.” 

I found this content here, along with a long string of comments.  A key factor is innovation in transportation and electricity.  Here is a link to Gates’ piece on climate policy:

People often present two timeframes that we should have as goals for CO2 reduction – 30% (off of some baseline) by 2025 and 80% by 2050.

World Leaders Debate Global Issues At Clinton Global Initiative

I believe the key one to achieve is 80% by 2050.

But we tend to focus on the first one since it is much more concrete.

We don’t distinguish properly between things that put you on a path to making the 80% goal by 2050 and things that don’t really help.

To make the 80% goal by 2050 we are going to have to reduce emissions from transportation and electrical production in participating countries down to zero.

You will still have emissions from other activities including domestic animals, making fertilizer, and decay processes.

There will still be countries that are too poor to participate.

If the goal is to get the transportation and electrical sectors down to zero emissions you clearly need innovation that leads to entirely new approaches to generating power.

Should society spend a lot of time trying to insulate houses and telling people to turn off lights or should it spend time on accelerating innovation?

If addressing climate change only requires us to get to the 2025 goal, then efficiency would be the key thing.

But you can never insulate your way to anything close to zero no matter what advocates of resource efficiency say. You can never reduce consumerism to anything close to zero.

Because 2025 is too soon for innovation to be completed and widely deployed, behavior change still matters.

Still, the amount of CO2 avoided by these kinds of modest reduction efforts will not be the key to what happens with climate change in the long run.

In fact it is doubtful that any such efforts in the rich countries will even offset the increase coming from richer lifestyles in places like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, etc.

Innovation in transportation and electricity will be the key factor.

One of the reasons I bring this up is that I hear a lot of climate change experts focus totally on 2025 or talk about how great it is that there is so much low hanging fruit that will make a difference.

This mostly focuses on saving a little bit of energy, which by itself is simply not enough. The need to get to zero emissions in key sectors almost never gets mentioned. The danger is people will think they just need to do a little bit and things will be fine.

If CO2 reduction is important, we need to make it clear to people what really matters – getting to zero.

With that kind of clarity, people will understand the need to get to zero and begin to grasp the scope and scale of innovation that is needed.

However all the talk about renewable portfolios, efficiency, and cap and trade tends to obscure the specific things that need to be done.

To achieve the kinds of innovations that will be required I think a distributed system of R&D with economic rewards for innovators and strong government encouragement is the key. There just isn’t enough work going on today to get us to where we need to go.

My point is not to denigrate efficiency. Slowing the growth of CO2 ppm is of course a good thing. And there are of course lots of cheap, and in many cases self-funding efficiency gains to be made.

We should at the least fix market barriers and dysfunctions that prevent these gains from being realized. That’s just being smart.

But it’s not enough to slow the growth of CO2 given the strength of demand driven by the poor who need to get access energy. And, we have to actually stop it at some point.

No amount of insulation will get us there, only innovating our way to essentially 0-carbon energy technology will do it. If we focus on just efficiency to the exclusion of innovation, or imagine that we can worry about efficiency first and worry about energy innovation later, we won’t get there.

The world is distracted from what counts on this issue in a big way.

Innovation will take longer and be more unpredictable than conservation and efficiency.  Markets need to be revised to account for externalities and remove barriers for developing and deploying clean technologies.  All play a role but we can’t dimmish the time nor efforts to develop and implement zero net GHG energy technology (if such a thing exists). 

Let’s get started……

Electrification Roadmap (part 1 of 4) – The Case for Electrification

To carry-on from an earlier post on the Electrification Roadmap, I’m providing an excerpt from the 186 page report published by the Electrification Coalition

This post is in outline form to provide a synopsis of Part One – The Case for Electrification from the report.  Please read the complete document available here.



Electrification Roadmap

The Electrification Roadmap endeavors to serve a practical function: to provide a public policy guide to transforming the U.S. light-duty ground transportation system from one that is oil-dependent to one powered almost entirely by electricity.

The need for such a document arises from the tremendous difficulty of the task. The goal of deploying more than 200 million electric-powered vehicles is ambitious and should not be understated. The envisioned change demands synchronized deployment of new vehicles and infrastructure on a massive scale. The existing ground transportation system represents a century of private investment and government regulation, and fundamentally altering this system requires an exceedingly careful and thorough planning process, to which this report seeks to make a helpful contribution.

Executive Summary

The United States may finally be emerging from its longest, and most severe, post-Depression recession.1 Although the recession was driven primarily by turmoil in financial and housing markets, it is increasingly clear that rising oil prices were a significant factor as well.At the beginning of 2001, oil prices were steady at $30 per barrel. Over the subsequent five years, prices steadily rose, reaching $75 per barrel in June of 2006. After retreating slightly, benchmark crude prices jumped 50 percent in 2007, from $60 per barrel in January to more than $90 in December. In 2008, oil prices soared rapidly, eventually reaching their all-time high of more than $147 per barrel on July 3.3


The Case for Electrification

  • 1.1 Overview
  • 1.3 The Solution
  • 1.4 THE TARGET
  • 1.5 National Imperative
  • 1.6 Electrification Policy



The Case for Electrification

The United States is dangerously exposed to a global oil market whose fundamental characteristics all but guarantee increasing volatility and instability. Oil dependence weakens our national security, threatens our economy, and degrades the environment. U.S. oil dependence stems largely from the transportation sector, which relies on petroleum for 94 percent of its delivered energy. Electrification of transportation—powering our light-duty fleet with electricity—is the best solution available for reducing U.S. oil dependence.

Electricity is produced from a diverse range of fuels that are overwhelmingly domestic, and oil has virtually no role in power generation. Today’s generation mix already offers environmental advantages versus conventional combustion engines for transportation, and the increased deployment of renewable generation will only improve this benefit. Finally, the technology to power vehicles with electricity over ranges that meet most drivers’ needs is essentially available today.

1.1 Overview

Modern American life is premised on the assumption that inexpensive oil will always be available to fuel our transportation system. Our vehicles, our jobs, and even the structure of our communities all depend on reliable supplies of affordable oil. Yet growing worldwide demand for oil and tightening supplies strongly suggest that the days of cheap, plentiful oil are over.

1.2 The Problem

The U.S. economy is heavily dependent on oil, particularly in our massive transportation sector. Oil price volatility, primarily driven by geopolitical events beyond our control, has made our current level of consumption unsustainable.

1.2.1 A Decade of Instability and Rising Oil Prices

Since 2003, rising oil demand in emerging markets, slow expansion of global production capacity, and persistent geopolitical volatility have combined to generate significant oil price volatility.

1.2.2 No Free Market Solution

Today’s global oil market is far removed from the free-market ideal. Resource nationalism in key oil-producing regions of the world has stunted investment and stalled supply growth.

1.2.3 National Security Costs of Oil Dependence

Oil dependence undermines American foreign policy goals when dealing with oil-producing countries. In addition, the burden of securing the global free flow of oil severely burdens the U.S. military.

1.2.4 Economic Costs of Oil Dependence

The U.S. trade deficit in crude oil and refined products reached $388 billion in 2008 — 56 percent of the total trade deficit. Moreover, every recession since 1970 has been preceded by an oil price spike.

1.2.5 Environmental Sustainability

The transportation sector is the single largest end-use emitter of carbon dioxide in the United States, accounting for 34 percent of 2007 total emissions of CO2.

1.3 The Solution

Electrification of transportation is the best solution for dramatically reducing oil dependence. The electric power sector has substantial advantages over the current petroleum-based fuel system, and vehicles fueled by electricity are far more efficient than the conventional vehicles we drive today.

1.3.1 The Power of Electricity

The electric power sector is a scalable source of energy based on an existing infrastructure. The fuels used to generate electricity are diverse and domestic, and electricity prices exhibit long-term stability.

1.4 The Target

The United States should set a specific and measurable goal for the widespread deployment of grid-enabled vehicles. Such a target will provide Americans with a clear definition of success and help lawmakers to focus policy efforts over the coming decades. The target should be ambitious but achievable with the right mix of consumer incentives and regulatory stability.

1.4.1 A National Goal for Electrification

The United States has set ambitious goals in order to advance the national interest in the past. Today, to safeguard national security, the country must commit to a transformed transport sector.

1.4.2 Critical Milestones

Specific milestones will assist lawmakers in measuring progress toward widespread electrification. Milestones should take into consideration the number of grid-enabled vehicles sold and on the road in order to assess the competitiveness of the technology.

1.4.3 Assessing the Goal’s Feasibility

Achieving the rate of GEV deployment targeted by the national goal would substantially improve American economic and national security. However, it is important to be clear-eyed about the steps required to accomplish such a goal.

1.5 National Imperative

For electrification to deliver on its full promise, the U.S. must commit to GEVs as the tactical core of a comprehensive oil abatement strategy. This may raise issues of government intervention in the marketplace. However, the total costs of oil dependence are so overwhelmingly damaging to the national interest that an alternative pathway is urgently needed.

1.5.1 Electrification is Superior to Alternatives

Meeting U.S. energy needs in the future will require a balanced portfolio of fuels and technologies across all sectors of the economy. Electrification can transform the light-duty fleet and sharply reduce oil dependence.

1.5.2 Infrastructure as a National Priority

Grid-enabled vehicles will require access to public charging equipment and will frequently interface with the electric power sector. These requirements present the United States with an opportunity to invest in a 21st century transportation infrastructure.

1.5.3 Opportunity Costs

Stringent CO2 emissions standards and high fuel prices have contributed to rapid developments in the global GEV industry. The United States faces the very real risk of being left behind in the next global industry.

1.6 Electrification Policy

The United States has a history of intermittent public policy support for vehicle electrification dating back to the 1970s. In general, however, the nation has lacked any consistency in its regulatory and fiscal commitment to electric vehicles.

Related posts:

Electrification Roadmap Released by Electrification Coalition




Designing the Smart Grid for Sustainable Communities, Version 2.0 – registration still open


There is still time remaining to enroll in Portland State University’s smartgrid course in case you’re interested in learning more about the smart grid. 

Here is the final announcement for the PSU smartgrid course starting on January 12th.  There is still time to sign up and a few open spots remaining.

A summary of course evaluations from last year’s Smart Grid course are included here for anyone considering the course.




Registration Now Open for PSU’s Designing the Smart Grid for Sustainable Communities, Version 2.0. Enrollment options are available for both graduate students and business and community leaders interested in professional development.

Last year, PSU offered an experimental two-term interdisciplinary course series that explored a set of emerging concepts, technologies, applications, and business models intended to transform the nation’s century-old, centralized power grid into a climate, renewable-energy-and consumer friendly “Smart Grid.” The course was designed to serve both:

  • Graduate students in engineering, information technology, public administration/policy, urban planning, business, economics, and related fields, and
  • Current and emerging leaders from the utility, information technology, public administration, urban, transportation and water resource planning, business and other fields.


Student and community interest in the course was overwhelming and we were forced to turn away many people interested in registering.  In response to a number of inquires, we have decided to offer the course series again this winter and spring term.  The course be offered on Tuesday evenings from 7-9:40 pm beginning on January 12.

The transition to the new paradigm suggested by the Smart Grid presents many challenges that will require collaboration and creative problem solving from many of our best minds in a variety of fields, including some that are far removed from the traditional electric utility industry and not often in communication.  It will also require understanding, participation, and support of elected leaders, public administrators and planners, the business community, engineers, information technology innovators, and many others.  

To best prepare students and professionals for active participation in the development of the Smart Grid, the course series offers a cross-disciplinary approach, deepening individual areas of expertise in the context of teamwork.  The first term develops a solid Smart Grid literacy, while the second term applies this knowledge base to specific case studies.  Examples of likely case studies include demonstration efforts on battery storage and its role in demand response, integration of electric and hybrid vehicles, use of Smart Grid and other clean energy technologies in an urban eco-district, and incorporating the Smart Grid into a broader effort to develop a sustainable community. Graduate students will be offered a rare opportunity to collaborate in small groups with industry professionals.

Both terms include lectures, active learning strategies, individual and group projects, class presentations from guest speakers and seminar participants, and field trips.  The series concludes with a closing regional conference that gives course participants to present their findings along with those of regional and national experts.

The course faculty this year includes:

  • Jeffrey Hammarlund, Adjunct Professor, Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University, and President, Northwest Energy and Environmental Strategies;
  • Conrad Eustis, Adjunct Professor, Portland State University, and Director, Retail Technology Development, Portland General Electric; and
  • Linda J. Rankin, Adjunct Professor, and Research Scientist, Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, Portland State University


Other nationally and regionally known Smart Grid experts will join us for selected classes.  Assuming there is sufficient enrollment, students will have the opportunity to present at and learn from other nationally known experts during our concluding regional conference, tentatively scheduled for June 15.  Senior elected officials, and government and business leaders from throughout the region will be invited to attend this concluding conference.

See the attached electronic brochure and flyer for more information. For on-line registration and additional information, visit our course website: http://www.pdx.edu/eli/smartgrid, or call Christine Hanolsy, Executive Leadership Institute’s Natural Resources Program Coordinator, at (503) 725-5114. For questions about course content and approach, call Professor Jeff Hammarlund, Mark Hatfield School of Government, PSU, at 503-249-0240.

Technology, Innovation and Youth

I saw an interview last night by Anderson Cooper with Dean Kamen on AC360, discussing innovation, technology, and the future. 

Interesting discussion about the role of government and innovation, the importance of education for competitivenes, the state of healthcare and other topics.

At about 11:00 into the video, Dean makes an observation about the US and how the culture has aged; becoming more mature, conservative and risk averse.  Kamen posits the rest of the world are now focused on education, instilling work ethic, and encourating capabilities in science, technology and innovation.  He feels that although the US historically has been at forefront of innovation, he believes that the US is threatened with losing that innovative edge. 

With FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), he founded an organization to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.

Pretty cool things those kids are doing with robots and competitions.  I’m enthused to think about all the great things these kids will do make a difference when they grow up!

Sustainable Design: Design for the other 90%

I read about the exhibit “Design for the other 90%” in an article in The Oregonian and thought it would be a good educational activity for my kids during winter break.  The exhibit features simple, low-cost design solutions to combat poverty.   Design for the other 90% explores a growing movement to design low-cost solutions for the other 90% of the world’s total population, 5.8 billion people of 6.5 billion people, that have little or no access to most of the products and services that most of us take for granted.

I ‘m fascinated with the innovation and simplicity of many the designs – not only simple objects for basic needs – but the innovations of how simple solutions can be implemented in a basic way to improve the lives of others.  One example was the Q Drum, a rolling drum to ease the effort of water transport in developing countries, a simple yet elegant way to ease the burden of carrying adequate quantities of potable water from a reliable source.

Over 30 designs and tools on display demonstrating the growing movement to design and offer solutions to the other 90%, helping with basic needs such as shelter, water, food, health, education, energy and transport.  Many of these projects employ market principles for income generation as a way out of poverty, helping poor rural farmers become micro-entrepreneurs, or helping cottage industries emerge in more urban areas.  My personal areas of interest have been along  the lines of water, energy and transport; though I’m becoming increasingly interested in microenterprise and social entrepreneurship as ways to affect positive change – particularly in developing countries.

First we visited The Action Center, an educational space where visitors can learn about global issues and learn about how to take action.  The Action Center is part of Mercy Corps, an organization that helps people in the world’s toughest places turn the crises of natural disaster, poverty and conflict into opportunities for progress.

I enjoyed the exhibit and the way it showcased how design can be a dynamic force for transforming, or in many cases, saving lives.  Granted these objects don’t necessarily fix the causal factors where poverty is endemic, I like the way these creative and innovative ideas are being applied to help others.

The Design for the other 90% exhibit was curated at The Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in NYC.  For more information, see here.  The exhibit is on display in Portland through February 27th.