What's Schipper Saying? Expanding Choices for Car Consumers and the True Cost of Wasting Energy
“Zero Emission Electric Car”, or just an Elsewhere Emission Car? Photo by Lee Schipper.

“Zero Emission Electric Car”, or just an Elsewhere Emission Car? Photo by Lee Schipper.

Welcome to another installment of “What’s Schipper Saying?”, a collection of comments about sustainable transport, cities and fuel efficiency made by Lee Schipper, a senior research engineer at the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center of Stanford University and the founder of EMBARQ, the nonprofit that produces this blog.

Schipper, a.k.a. Mr. Meter, leaves a trail of commentary on popular blogs across cyberspace. We track him down — so you don’t have to — and offer a round-up of his latest responses to hot topics in the world of sustainable cities. This week, he talks about the expanding choices of futuristic cars and the need to innovate for energy efficiency.


ABC7 News produced a video report about Stanford University’s recent Electric and Fuel Cell Vehicle Showcase, an event that featured battery-powered light-duty vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, and plug-in hybrids.

A panel of automakers and academic researchers said that consumers have more choices than ever before, when it comes to choosing a new vehicle. And that’s a good thing for sustainable transport. Says Schipper:

“This kind of competition has not been known since the 1910’s when steamers, ranking cycle, electric disk — when there was everything on the market — and gasoline won because it was the easiest one to produce and above all it was the most compact fuel.”

The subtext, of course, is that gasoline can’t keep “winning” in order to ensure a sustainable, energy efficient future.


“We can’t keep making fuel and transport cheaper,” Schipper says in another conversation with Andrew Revkin at the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog, “not only because we have run out of money but because that just raises the demand for power and weight.”

His comments are in response to Revkin’s previous post about the energy and climate challenge, and how increased government spending and other investments in research and technology “could really expand the menu of energy options required to sustain a prospering, healthy planet as the human growth spurt crests.” Schipper agrees that an “innovation push” is necessary. But he also calls for raising prices — particularly of fuel — to show the true cost of wasting energy:

I would submit that while we need lots of government research, we need a great sucking sound of people — families, builders, industries — investing in saving fuel and reducing their CO2 emissions drastically. As one of my students said, these vehicles are 20, 30, or 40 percent reductions in CO2 when 80 percent is closer to what is called for. We also have to change the way we move about.

But as long as both political parties promise cheap energy and tax breaks, we will just pile up idea after idea on the academic shelf but see little real change in the marketplace.

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