The technology is now available to replace our petroleum-based transportation system with high efficiency, electric biofueled vehicles. The key technology, the hybrid electric vehicle, was introduced in 2002 in the United States. Current hybrids do not travel far, if at all, on electricity and their batteries can be recharged only by the engine. Plug-in hybrids, however, have larger battery packs, allowing them to travel on electricity for the majority of vehicle miles traveled, and their batteries can be recharged from the electricity grid. In 2008, kits to convert a Prius into a plug-in vehicle will be widely available. By 2010, several car companies, including Toyota and General Motors, anticipate selling plug-in vehicles.
Another important, but more modest technological development is the flexible fueled vehicle that can use high or low blends of ethanol. The cost to the car manufacturers of adding a flexible fueled capability is very low, perhaps under $100.
These two technical developments allow us to build a transportation system primarily powered by electric motors, with backup engines fueled primarily by biofuels.
The 2007 energy bill will hasten the transition to a dual fueled transportation system. The bill mandates higher vehicle efficiencies that may well be achievable only by hybridizing most new vehicles. The bill also mandates a six fold increase in biofuels. Meanwhile, state mandates will boost six fold the production of renewable electricity, a key element in a sustainable electric transportation system.
A transformed transportation system can restructure electric power networks and agriculture. Hundreds of thousands of locally owned wind turbines and solar electric arrays, supplying a family plug-in hybrid vehicle capable not only of storing elecricity from intermittent generators, but also of supplying electricity on demand, could form the basis for a new electricity system. Thousands of farmer owned biorefineries can form the basis for a new agricultural system.
In 2008, Congress and state legislatures will be debating new policies for agriculture, energy and transportation. In designing those rules, policy makers should strive to marry energy security, environmental, economic development and social objectives.