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?!