During the last week of July, after seven or eight years of intermittent and often excruciating negotiations, the U.S. Congress agreed on a comprehensive energy law and sent it to President George W. Bush for his signature. The legislation does not satisfy those who sought strong measures to reduce dependence on foreign oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions, but it also disappoints some in the industry who wanted much bigger breaks than they ended up getting.

First and foremost, the bill makes electric power reliability rules mandatory, so that the kinds of lapses on the part of utility managers that led to the big blackout of August 2003 will now be punishable. The bill allocates billions of dollars for a variety of incentives to encourage energy efficiency and conservation, as well as greater use of wind, solar, and nuclear energy. It earmarks US $1.8 billion for development of clean-coal technologies.

The oil industry failed to obtain a federal guarantee against liability suits brought in connection with methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), an antiknocking fuel additive that was adopted after the use of lead in gasoline was banned. Equally surprising, the bill requires the amount of ethanol used in gasoline to be increased to 7.5 million gallons annually by 2012, from roughly 4 million gallons this year [see photo].

A proposal to require utilities to generate 10 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2020 was rejected. And so was a measure calling on the president to somehow conserve a million barrels of oil per day--an invitation to the president to strengthen automotive fuel efficiency standards.

William Sweet
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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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