More Batteries, Less Oil

| Thu Aug. 11, 2011 1:09 PM EDT

Time's Michael Grunwald says that although the 2009 stimulus might have been too small, it sure has made a big difference to the American battery industry:

Before 2009, the U.S. was supplying less than 2% of a tiny global market in advanced batteries. When the stimulus-funded factories are all complete, they’ll have the capacity to supply 40% of a rapidly growing global market, about 500,000 batteries a year. The stimulus will also boost our supply of electric-vehicle charging stations by more than 3,000%. And the Obama administration has provided loans to help Tesla, Fisker and Nissan build electric-car factories in the U.S., all part of Obama’s pledge to put 1 million plug-ins on the road by 2015. That is what change looks like, even if the President doesn’t beat his chest and call for mass beheadings on Wall Street while it happens.

Point taken, though I wouldn't mind at least a few targeted beheadings on Wall Street as well. Plus there's this about newly announced fuel economy regs for big rigs:

The regulations call for reductions on fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2018 of 9 to 23 percent, depending on the type of vehicle. Trucks and other heavy vehicles make up only 4 percent of the domestic vehicle fleet, but given the distance they travel, the time they spend idling and their low fuel efficiency, they end up consuming about 20% of all vehicle fuel, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Experts say that a 20 percent reduction in heavy vehicle emissions would boost fuel efficiency to an average of 8 miles per gallon from 6 miles now.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after Obama and the country’s automakers unveiled new fuel economy rules for passenger vehicles that would boost fleet-wide average gas mileage to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, from about 27.8 miles per gallon now.

Let's do some arithmetic. Trucks use 20% of all vehicle fuel, and the new standards will increase their efficiency from 6 mpg to 8 mpg. That's 25% less fuel in a fleet that accounts for 20% of all fuel use, or 5% less total fuel used. It's not going to solve global warming all on its own, but it's probably more than you would have guessed. Add that to the new regs for cars and light trucks, and American gasoline use is going to go down pretty considerably by 2025. It just goes to show what vigorous executive action, combined with an implicit threat from us radical lefties in California,1 can accomplish.

1Just in case I'm being too opaque, here's what this means. California has long had an exemption that allows it to set its own standards for auto emissions, which in the case of CO2 is basically the same thing as setting standards for fuel economy. Automakers really, really don't want to have separate standards for California and everywhere else, so the threat that we communists in the Golden State will unilaterally ratchet up our own standards gives them an incentive to agree to nationwide standards that are tougher than they'd otherwise agree to. You can thank us later.

UPDATE: I'll grant, though, that this is a good question: Why are big rigs are so inefficient in the first place, given that they're commercial vehicles and their owners are pretty obsessive about fuel costs? My guess is that just like commercial building owners, truck owners simply don't always focus on long-term things like energy efficiency. It's human nature.