Electric Vehicle

Unleashing Innovation for a Clean Energy Economy

By Gina McCarthy

One of America’s greatest assets is the ingenuity of its people. President Obama has been driving that theme home since the beginning of his Administration. At EPA, we’ve seen time and again that by unleashing homegrown American innovation, we can bring about big wins for both the environment and the economy.

Just look at renewable energy – today the U.S. generates three times as much wind power, and 20 times as much solar power as we did in 2008. And since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system in the U.S. has dropped by half. At the same time, the U.S. solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

Photo of windmills with a blue sky.

And look at the auto industry – we’ve set historic fuel efficiency standards that promise to send our cars twice as far on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade—a move that will reduce pollution and save families money at the pump at the same time. Today, every major U.S. automaker offers electric vehicles. And since 2009, the American auto industry added more than 250,000 jobs.

These are wins all around. That’s why states, communities, and leading private sector companies are investing in clean energy innovation. Because it’s is good for the environment and it’s good for business. There are countless state-based projects already underway to reduce energy waste, boost efficiencies, and vastly increase the amount of energy solar panels can produce from the sun.

We’re already seeing tremendous progress across the country – including the development of smart, low-cost technologies that help households save on their energy bills. On this front, the state of Illinois is moving ahead at full speed.

Photograph of Administrator Gina McCarthy speaking at a podium.

Just last week, I was proud to join officials from the City of Chicago, utility companies, citizen groups, and two energy-technology companies – Nest and Ecobee – as they announced a major new initiative to get one million “smart” thermostats into northern Illinois homes by the year 2020.

The innovative partnership offers rebates that will nearly halve the cost of thermostats that allow residents to control the temperature of their homes via mobile device. And the technology is “smart” because it adapts to user behaviors over time. The new program is bringing together utilities, environmental organizations, consumer groups, private companies, and the state commerce chamber – all working together toward an ambitious energy efficiency goal.

The one-million smart thermostats effort is a prime example of the power of innovation and partnerships in solving tough problems. Because when we bring diverse skills, perspectives, and expertise to the table, we get creative solutions. The Illinois program will bring efficiencies that move the needle against climate change and it will help consumers’ savings on their energy bills at the same time. That’s a win-win.

And it’s precisely the kind innovative thinking that states across the country are using to help meet the requirements laid out in EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which launched this past summer.

The Plan puts the U.S. on track to slash carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. And when we cut carbon pollution, we also cut harmful smog- and soot-forming pollutants that come along with it.

We’ll start seeing health benefits in the near term, and by 2030, we’ll avoid thousands of premature deaths and hospital admissions, tens of thousands of asthma attacks, and hundreds of thousands of missed school and work days.  In that same year, the average American family will see $85 a year in savings on their utility bills. That’s another win-win.

The bottom line is— America knows how to innovate, and solutions are already here. Technology and innovation are turning what used to be daunting challenges into real, profitable opportunities. The kinds of innovative thinking we’re seeing in Illinois and elsewhere are our best shot at seizing them.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Electric Cars

By Neftali (Nef) Hernandez

Technologies that make life simpler usually start to gain market share, get public acceptance and finally prevail over others.  Wi-Fi wireless technology, for example.  When it started, it was not user friendly or faster than an Ethernet cable.  However it was convenient and gave people the freedom to be detached from their desk or office table.  Now Wi-Fi is widely used to access the internet everywhere.  The same thing happened with digital cameras.  At the beginning I got used to the expression “digital cameras will never replace film cameras, because they will never have the same resolution.”  Guess what? They have replaced almost completely, film cameras.

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In my opinion environmentally friendly technologies that meet the same criteria won’t be the exception, especially, Electric Vehicles (EVs).  You can find out more about environmentally friendly vehicles at EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide.

I am confident that many of the shortcomings (lack of infrastructure to “plug into,” range on a full charge, battery lifespan) will eventually be overcome.  Today some experimental EVs can even give you almost 300 miles per charge and have the option of fully charging the battery in less than 4 hours.  “Four hours?  That is a lot.” Yes, it is.  But if you get in the habit of recharging your car every time you stop in your home, you may never have to wait the 4 hours.

American automobile makers are wonderful innovators and have been moving into EV manufacturing over the last several years, even pushing EPA to come up with a new sticker.

This is creating a healthy competition that will bring more affordable EVs to the general public and will likely give people greater confidence in these cars.  Is an EV better for you than the combustion engine cars of today?  Answering this is very subjective because it depends on your unique needs.  I know my answer is not that clear.  However the environmental benefits of EV are growing (zero emissions of pollution and lower noise levels) so if you ask me… Do you think that an EV could replace my combustion engine car?  My answer is simple “Yes, it will, someday.”

The next big thing for the EVs might be designing them in such a way that they can be disassembled and their components reused or recycled easily when the vehicle reaches it usable life, minimizing waste for generations to come.  Such an approach might be applied to many things that we produce, but I’ll save that for another blog.

 About the Author: Neftali Hernandez grew up in Puerto Rico and is an Environmental Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Drinking Water Branch.  He is a member of EPA’s Water Emergency Response Group and has a bachelor of science degree in biology and a masters of science degree in environmental health from the University of Puerto Rico.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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