To Infinity and Beyond Oil
November 12, 2012

A group of high-minded, like-minded, smart-minded, mindful, mind-bogglingly inventive individuals convened in Seattle Center's Intiman Theatre on Friday, September 7, to talk about the future of transportation fuels. And everyone, even Former GM Vice Chairman and climate change denier Bob Lutz, agreed that petroleum would not be powering our commutes, errands, and vacations forever.

Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation, a full-day conference that brought together thought leaders, government officials, members of the automobile industry, environmental advocates, and electric vehicle (EV) aficionados, was part of Seattle's Next Fifty celebration commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair and looking ahead at, you guessed it, the next 50 years for the city.

Amory Lovins, cofounder, Chairman, and Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, a think-and-do tank that focuses on radical resource efficiency through integrative design, delivered the opening keynote address, which drew on the blueprint to the new energy era put forth by his 2011 book Reinventing Fire.

He laid out the roadmap to creating superlight, super-safe, superefficient vehicles that require 80 percent less capital to build via whole-vehicle integrated thinking, avowing that the U.S. can cut oil demand in half by "drilling in the … Detroit Formation." Emphasis was put on systemic solutions, which are often more straightforward, less expensive, and able to solve several problems with each investment.

Climate Solutions' Policy Director KC Golden then took the stage to call upon the Pacific Northwest to show the world that a choreographed, smarter grid with more electrification and better interconnectedness between the grid and transportation sector can be done and will be a boon to our region's economy. He even tried, futilely, to make peace with Lutz, offering to trade in his dormant 1976 pickup for a Chevy Volt (Lutz was the force behind the Volt) if the auto exec would change his tune and admit that anthropogenically caused climate change is real. No dice.

John Boesel, President and CEO of member-supported, transportation-focused CALSTART, presented the assembly with several ongoing developments that facilitate the transition to a "beyond oil" transportation sector. He outlined how employers can be the moving force toward EV adoption by installing workplace charging equipment. This not only addresses the range issues for employees with long commutes, but also allows the company parking lot to serve as a showroom for state-of-the-art electric vehicles, potentially sparking word-of-mouth interest.

Charlie Allcock, Director of Economic Development for Oregon's largest utility, Portland General Electric, hyped the fun of driving high-performance electric cars and discussed Portland's successes in creating an infrastructure to support the needs of EV drivers.

Each of the two candidates vying for Washington Governor shared their visions of the state's transportation future via video. Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee, after introductions from former US Senator (R-WA) Slade Gorton and Mercer Island City Councilman and New Energy Solutions Chairman Mike Grady, respectively, both used the opportunity to present their differing transportation platforms.

More speakers riffed on smart vehicle technology, sustainable communities, electric highways, and futuristic self-driving cars. The summit trumpeted a promising future of driving without fossil fuels.

Bob Lutz's speech was particularly encouraging, given his skepticism about the threat of climate change, because he predicted that by 2050 we will all drive lightweight electric cars that can go hundreds of miles between charges—heartening evidence that we in fact will reach a transportation future that goes beyond oil. The question is: will we get there fast enough?

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