Energy Collective blog power policy climate - the conversation happens here

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Simple Exercise in Fuel Economy ... or Why Drilling in ANWR Has Nothing to do with Domestic Energy Security

Here's a simple exercise in the potential of fuel economy improvements:

A little while back, the Energy Blog posted about a hydrogen-boost system that offers a 10-40% increase in fuel economy for heavy trucks and Green Car Congress reported on a similar technology for cars and light trucks that could boost fuel economy by 20-30%.

Now these are both incremental improvements, and 10% or 20% doesn't sound like a lot at first glance, but what kind of numbers are we really talking about here? What kind of potential do incremental improvements to fuel efficiency have? The answer is that they are nothing to scoff at. Let's see what happens when we run through the numbers:

According to the Transportation Energy Databook (TEDB), the U.S. consumed 13.2 million barrels of oil per day (MMbbl/d) in 2002. Cars (32.6%) and light trucks (24.0%) together account for 56.6% of that oil and when you add heavy trucks (17.6%) we are up to 74.2% or about 9.8 MMbbl/d. Lets assume that all light vehicles and heavy trucks utilized the hydrogen boost system for a 20% improvement in fuel economy accross the board, that would then save almost 1.96 MMbbl/d of oil.

Let's put this in perspective: 1.96 MMbbl/d is 14.8% of the total US oil consumption for transport. On the production side, that's over 1/4 (26.25%) of the 7.46 MMbbl/d of U.S. crude oil production. Its also over twice (2.25 times) the estimated peak production that could be achieved if we were to drill in ANWR (870,000 bbl/d). This shows you how hard it is to take seriously the arguments that drilling in ANWR is about domestic energy security; a simple incremental boost in fuel efficiency of 10% would net the same gain as drilling in ANWR without the environmental damage (in fact we'd see an environmental benefit in the form of reduced emissions) but this avenue hasn't been proposed by Bush and the gang.

There are a number of technologies that could provide such incremental boosts in fuel efficiency - just scan the headlines at Green Car Congress any day of the week and you'll see what I'm talking about. These include: hydrogen-boost systems; continuously variable transmissions; idle-stop systems; displacement on demand/variable cylinder management (VCM)/variable valve timing electronic control (VTEC); drag-reducing devices like boat tails for tractor-trailers; TIGERS (exhaust gas energy recovery system); and of course hybrid-electric systems and more. All yield incremental improvements that can have a substantial impact on our transport fuel use and therefore oil consumption.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: if we were serious about domestic oil security, we should get serious about raising the fuel efficiency of our transport fleet. Raising the fuel economy of our light vehicle and heavy truck transport fleet by 2/3rds accross the board (cars from ~20 to 36.5 MPG; light trucks from ~17.5 to 29 MPG; heavy single-unit trucks from ~7.5 to 12.5 MPG; and heavy combo trucks from ~5.4 to 9 MPG) would eliminate over half of our need for imported oil, or about 6.46 MMbbl/d (we currently import about 12.5 MMbbl/d to make up for our production-consumption deficit - this gap is widening). Given the long list of technologies above, coupled with a reduction in the number of poor fuel economy vehicles (large SUVs and light trucks) on the road, I see this goal as a realistically achievable one.

And it's not like there aren't pleny of good reasons to work towards this goal: achieving it would allow us to import the bulk of our oil from Canada and Mexico while severly reducing or eliminating our dependence on Middle Eastern oil; it would also presumably cut in half the of the approx. $360 million sent overseas every day to pay for imported oil (money practically leaking out of our economy and forming the bulk of our national trade deficit) and would severily reduce if not eliminate the between $6 and $60 billion per year spent to defend Middle Eastern oil (estimates vary, see the TEDB pg 1-11 for a summary of various studies and their estimates); finally, it would go along way towards sheltering us from the impacts of OPEC controlled oil prices - OPEC driven oil shocks have been estimated to have cost the U.S. economy $7 trillion over the past three decades (see TEDB p. 1-10), a staggering amount roughly equal to the sum total of payments on the national debt over the same period!

And all of these dollar figures aside, the environmental benefits would be impressive. We would see greatly reduced criteria pollutant emissions as well as a serious decrease in greenhouse gas emissions - transport is responsible for 1/3rd of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions or 1.8 billion metric tons (see TEDB p. 11-1) so reducing our total use of oil for transport by 6.46 MMbbl/d would be an almost 50% reduction in the amount of oil used for transport and a corresponding cut of almost 1/6th of our total U.S. GHG emissions. That alone would be a 16% decrease in GHG emissions which would go a long way towards meeting Kyoto-style targets for GHG reductions.

In summary, drilling in ANWR isn't about domestic energy security; it's about profits for Exxon et. al. Increased fuel economy standards ARE about domestic energy security, as well as economic growth, environmental benefits, national security concerns, combatting global climate change ... what more do we want?!


Jesse Jenkins said...

And this is exactly what I'm talking about: GCC reports today that Toyota has released a new compact sedan for the Japanese market (US market to come?) that reaches 51 MPG on the Japanese road test cycle by utilizing a compact design, continuously variable transmission and variable valve timing. As I wrote above, picking a couple of technologies off the list of techs that can incrementally boost fuel efficiency could easily bring any car 1/3rd or better improvements in fuel economy.

Jesse Jenkins said...

OK Patrick here goes:

"But your logical error is to forget that your 'neat idea' has a cost of implementation behind it. You completely ignore it!"

->I don't assume that a 20% increase in fuel economy will happen overnight at the wave of a magic want, Patrick. Niether will drilling in ANWR.

The time frames I've read for ANWR at that the first drop of oil likely wont start flowing for another ten years after Congress gives the OK (you suggest three years but I've never heard anyone offering such a short timeframe for ANWR).

I've also read that that half the U.S. transport fleet is replaced something like every 10-15 years. So yes, we won't see the solution I mention in place for another 10+ years, but that is the same as for ANWR and the longer we wait, the more new cars are purchased that don't include higher gas mileages.

The point is that there are a whole number of technologies that could provide incremental boosts to fuel economy without hindering performance, not to mention simply driving smaller/lighter cars/trucks. When Bush and the senate leadership haven't uttered a word of encouragement, much less put forth policies to promote these technologies or higher mileage standards, it's hard to believe that drilling in ANWR is about energy security. If it were part of some comprehensive push to ween us off of foreign oil, I wouldn't necessarily oppose it but the simple fact is, it is not.

"It's unlikely this system could be dropped-in added to existing cars in an economical way."

->Actually, that's exactly what the hydrogen boost system designed for trucks is intended to do and is supposed to pay itself off in a very short period of time. In fact, the system is available now for lease and Jim at the Energy Blog reports that "with 15,000 miles per month and 6 miles per gallon an eighteen wheeler can save at least $450 and more likely over a $1000 per month above the cost of leasing a unit." That sounds pretty economical to me and more and more truckers are installing them. The deployment of this could happen in a very short period of time and makes perfect economic sense. They also have a smaller system for cars/light trucks and another company is working on one as well which would make great sense for anyone driving many miles (i.e. taxi drivers, delivery vehicles, police cars, ambulances, buses, people with long commutes, etc.).

"150 million cars on the road today have to then get replace. costing say $15,000 per, then to get your fleet replaced to realize this benefit would cost $2.2 TRILLION. "

->Those costs will already be born by the U.S. consumers who will replace their cars regardless of anything else. Implying that this is part of the cost of implementation of improved energy efficiency is simply erroneous and misleading.

"And if this add-on adds 10% to the cost of the car, than the add-on alone costs $220 billion."

->Much or all of which will be repaid by decreased fuel costs, money that will flow back into the U.S. economy in the form of extra disposable income and perhaps even extra money to U.S. auto makers if they get their act together and get on board in promoting these technologies rather than more money for foreign oil regimes.

If we are concerned about consumers worrying about the initial costs of these technologies (i.e. 'sticker shock'), then we can implement higher gas taxes to encourage conservation and efficiency or subisidize these technologies with tax credits or low-interest loans to help alter the payback period or provide research incentives for auto manufacturers or we can simply mandate that all new cars get better mileage, thus eliminating the cost comparison with less efficient cars. This are the kind of options a President or Congress truly concerned with ending our dependence on foreign oil would be considering (in addition to promoting the use of plug-in hybrids, not some far-off hydrogen hype).

Finally, this 'implementation' cost is also offset by the benefits of reducing the amount of oil consumed, rather than simply shifting the source to domestic supplies - i.e. reduced emissions and public health benefits, lower oil prices do to decreased demand, reduced global climate change impact etc.

"You also ignore the issue of the practicality of adding another type of fuel to the mix in the specific example of hydrogen injection."

There is no 'issue of practicality' here! In fact, the addition of small amounts of hydrogen actually cleans the engine in addition to improving performance. Read this.

"Let me also point out, drilling in ANWR and getting the 1 mbd that it could generate, has all of these benefits you cite as well..."

->I'm not contesting that. My point is that there are other options that should be taken instead of or in addition to drilling in ANWR that have less of an environmental impact.

In summary, I oppose drilling in ANWR because it does not come as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and as such seems to me to be more about paying back political contributors and making more money for oil companies than about domestic energy security. Until I see a set of policy proposals that do more than simply shift demand from foreign to domestic sources of oil and actually move us forward towards consuming less or shifting demand away from fossil fuels, I just don't trust Bush, Stevens, et. al. in their 'energy independence' rhetoric.

Additionally, the portion of revenue that goes to the federal budget is not significant enough for a resource held on public lands and whose extraction requires the environmental degredation of those lands. I would also be much more willing to support drilling in ANWR if the revenues were specifically set aside to fund further conservation or efficiency, plug-in hybrid development etc. ... anything that sets us on a path to a real sustainable energy future.

As you said, "Of course there is nothing that says we shouldnt try both" but until we are actually proposing both, I'm going to oppose doing the more destructive, polluting and unsustainable option.

Remember, no matter if the oil is coming from ANWR or Iraq, relying on oil for our energy needs can never be part of that sustainable scenario.