Can the nation's infrastructure handle rising demand for electric vehicles? During today's OnPoint, Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, discusses a new policy action plan for vehicles and infrastructure. He also explains how the United States can stay ahead on technology development and manufacturing.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association. Brian, it's great to see you.
Brian Wynne: And great to be back, thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: Brian, a big push the president last week on clean energy. Where does the momentum on energy stand right now as we get into the early stages of the 112th Congress?
Brian Wynne: The momentum clearly is toward jobs. It's about creating jobs of the future and the competitiveness that's associated with investing in advanced energy. So, we think this is a perfect place for electric drive to be right now because we're right at the beginning of delivering mass-market vehicles that plug into the grid. Of course, they're standing on the shoulders of some 25 hybrid vehicles that are already in the marketplace. But it's a very exciting time. We've been investing heavily, both public and private sector money going into advanced technology vehicles on the manufacturing side, on the grid side. So we think it's a perfect theme.
Monica Trauzzi: How would you describe the electric vehicle market right now? I mean is it in need of a boost or how are you guys doing?
Brian Wynne: Well, I think the biggest challenge we have is meeting the demand, but, of course, we're starting from a very low base of manufacturing, those that are plugging into the grid. So we have the Chevy Volt that is now in the market, the Nissan Leaf. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is coming right after that. Of course, the Tesla has been in the marketplace, but there are upwards of 25 vehicles now that have been announced that are coming into the market. Consumers are very excited about them. They're both light-duty vehicles, as well as medium and heavy duty size vehicles that will plug into the grid for consumers, as well as fleet operators. And we just can't meet the demand in the early phases fast enough. So a lot of work to be done.
Monica Trauzzi: How necessary are incentives when it comes to keeping that demand going? And compare state versus federal incentives. Do we need as many state incentives as we do federal?
Brian Wynne: Well, each state is going to make that decision on their own of course. The federal incentives are something that we've been working on for a long time and they're critical at this stage in the market. We need to reduce the market hurdles that are associated with every technology that comes to the marketplace and this is a breakthrough technology that we're talking about, actually a number of breakthrough technologies. I think the critical thing to bear in mind too is that we're competing against a very, very robust technology and a very entrenched fuel system. So these are things that make reducing market barriers extremely important. No less important of course because we have to look at the broader picture that national policies can address, our ramping up manufacturing because the way we get more competitive with this technology with more and more platforms is to increase manufacturing. And we want to lead in manufacturing in this country. That's going to be extremely important from a competitiveness point of view. Then we need to educate the consumer. Of course, we want to continue to move the technology forward in terms of R&D. And then, finally, as we operationalize electric transportation, get it in the marketplace, have people plugging into the grid, there are regulations that need to be standardized and need to be synchronized so that people have a good experience with that and, of course, the grid which has tremendous capacity, can handle all the cars that we think are coming.
Monica Trauzzi: And one of the key elements of the president's speech last week was the innovation. You just spoke about keeping the U.S. as a leader when it comes to technological development and manufacturing. How do we do that?
Brian Wynne: Well, you know, the market is going to follow the innovation and the innovation is going to follow the market. So we need to look at both sides of that equation and make certain that this marketplace is primed and ready. The innovation that I'm noting right now is really quite extraordinary. One of the things about electric drive of course that we've discussed in the past is that it's a very, very flexible technology and that's important because there are a lot of different kinds of vehicles in the fleet. Innovation can mean that and I think that's what we're seeing. We not only have hybrids in the market, but we have pure battery electric vehicles that are coming. We have vehicles that are range extended. We have plug-in hybrids, etc. And then of course we have fuel cell vehicles as well which are also electric drive vehicles that create their electricity onboard using hydrogen as an energy carrier. Innovation is key to all of these vehicles because, at the end of the day, we need to keep responding to what the consumer wants, what the transportation needs are. And I think that we're doing that with this technology in a very flexible way.
Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned regulation earlier, is there a lack of clarity at this point between the regulators and the people who are developing the technologies? And what more specificity needs to exist?
Brian Wynne: Well, we're finding that out as we go. We're essentially transforming our transportation in this country. We've built a transportation structure on cheap gasoline. Gasoline is no longer cheap. It's not going to be cheap in the future and so we need to look at ways of making our energy use, in a broader sense, more optimal. That's really the beauty of electric drive, is we have a fuel structure, i.e. the grid, which is underutilized, converging with a vehicle technology that's been moving forward for some time now, but is really accelerating forward particularly with energy storage right now. And the regulations aren't necessarily in place to optimize that yet because we haven't done a great deal of it. And, of course, the way we regulate, particularly on the utility side, is subject to a lot of different jurisdictional questions. So there's a lot of coordination that needs to be done at all the different levels.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you think there's an understanding among consumers and also policymakers when it comes to the infrastructure hurdles that need to be overcome in order to accommodate all these vehicles that we're talking about bringing on the market?
Brian Wynne: Well, I'm not sure what the hurdles are yet. In some ways, I've been driving a vehicle that plugs in for about two months now. I see no hurdles at all. I plug-in at home. I plug-in in the office. I think for the vast majority of drivers that are going to adopt this technology in the early stages there are no hurdles. It's going to be relatively easy as it has been for me. As we go forward, I think, we'll run into some challenges to accommodate larger and larger numbers. Of course, these are challenges that we really welcome and many, particularly on the infrastructure side, utilities are getting out ahead of this. They're figuring out best practices. They're working with their municipal authorities and their regulatory commissions and so forth to see what's the best way that we can accommodate this and get to the real benefits of electric drive. You know, let's not forget that part of the reason why we're doing this is because every gallon of gasoline we can displace with electricity, we're keeping our energy dollars here in this country. That's extremely important right now when we're talking about budget deficits and we're talking about scarcity. Let's prioritize. Let's focus on technologies that are going to allow us to invest in our own energy future. Electric drive allows us to do that.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Brian Wynne: Thank you Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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