Tags: energy efficiency | policy | bipartisan

Energy Efficiency Policy Should Unite Conservatives and Liberals

Energy Efficiency Policy Should Unite Conservatives and Liberals
The 2017 Green Car of the Year Award-winning Chevy Bolt EV is presented during the four-day auto trade show AutoMobility LA at the Los Angeles Convention Center on November 17, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Tuesday, 20 November 2018 04:18 PM Current | Bio | Archive

If there are ideas that appeal to both conservatives and liberals, one certainly is that efficiency is good. How could anybody oppose getting more bang for a buck, more miles per gallon, or more light per kilowatt-hour?

Its benefits are so obvious that nobody would put up a sign proclaiming "Efficiency is good!" It might remind us of the intentionally hilarious motto of "Faber University" in "Animal House": "knowledge is good.

Until recently, I never really understood why hybrid cars are more efficient than vehicles relying solely on internal combustion engines. After all, before plug-in versions came along, hybrids like the Toyota Prius obtained all their energy from gasoline, or from electricity generated by the gasoline engine. But they got many more miles per gallon than regular cars.

I finally understood why hybrids get excellent mileage after we drove our new all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV up Marys Peak, the highest point in the Oregon Coast Range. During the nearly 4,000 foot climb the remaining "range" in our car's batteries dropped alarmingly. For every mile we drove, the remaining range decreased by several miles. This made sense, since driving 3,500 pounds uphill requires much more energy than driving the same distance on a level highway.

However as we drove back down the mountain the remaining range in our batteries increased so much that our total electricity consumption for the round trip — about one kilowatt-hour for every four miles driven — averaged out to about what it would have taken to drive the same distance on a completely level road.

The "secret" here is that modern electrical vehicles like the Bolt EV use electricity from their batteries when accelerating or going uphill, but they regenerate electricity and put it back in the batteries when slowing down or traveling downhill. Hybrids do the same thing, regenerating and capturing electricity rather than wasting their kinetic energy as heat when braking or going downhill. The electricity thus captured can be used to propel the hybrid later, reducing the need to burn gasoline and thus greatly increasing miles traveled per gallon.

Compared with EVs and hybrids, purely gasoline driven automobiles are extremely inefficient. And in a world threatened with potentially disastrous global warming as a side effect of burning hydrocarbon fuel, inefficiency is especially bad. Liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on this, too, since if they all believe efficiency is good then inefficiency has got to be bad.

People of all political persuasions should therefore do everything we reasonably can to encourage wider use of electrical vehicles. This can be done with policies like the current $7,500 federal tax credit for buying qualified electrical vehicles. Even better, it could be done by taxing carbon emissions to make hydrocarbon fuels more expensive, increasing the relative attractiveness of electric cars. The harm done to poor people by the price increases caused by such a tax could be eliminated by remitting the money resulting from the tax equally to all members of the public as an Alaska-like social dividend.

We should also encourage the generation of electricity by non-polluting facilities — wind, solar, hydroelectric, atomic, and the like.

We are already saving huge amounts of energy with more efficient lighting, TV sets, and refrigerators. An LED light bulb uses only about one sixth of the electricity that would be used by an old-fashioned incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light.

The electricity saved by newer technologies is measured in "negawatt-hours," referring to electricity that need not be generated because we can get desired results with a lot less electricity. Every negawatt-hour represents heat-trapping carbon dioxide that has not been put into the atmosphere. Both liberals and conservatives, whose children and grandchildren will live on whatever planet we leave to them, should support policies designed to maximize such savings.

Although policies prolonging the use of coal and oil would benefit workers in those industries in the short run, they will slow down movement to cleaner energy and energy efficiency. Rather than impeding progress towards clean energy and greater efficiency, government should encourage it. But it should then hold coal miners and the like harmless by helping them find other work or, if necessary, supporting them financially at the expense of all taxpayers. Otherwise these displaced workers would be paying a disproportionate share of the costs of progress, clearly unfair.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Although policies prolonging the use of coal and oil would benefit workers in those industries in the short run, they will slow down movement to cleaner energy and energy efficiency.
energy efficiency, policy, bipartisan
Tuesday, 20 November 2018 04:18 PM
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