A couple of statistics recently caught my attention.  The first was that in the month of May, Americans purchased more SUVs than any other type of vehicle.  Gas guzzlers, not hybrids or gas-sipping vehicles.  This happens while we have a catastrophic oil spill fouling critical habitat for land and marine species, along with the massive economic disruptions to all the human inhabitants of that region. 

The second factoid that caught my eye is that an official from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) reported that China imported 52% of its oil in 2009. By 2030, it is projected that China will import 70% of the oil it needs.  The CAAM members are planning to intensively invest in electric vehicles (EVs) because they predict that EVs and hybrids will be 30% of their auto sales by 2015.  The Chinese government plans to subsidize EVs and hybrids to reduce reliance on oil imports.  Industry insiders indicate that the government is focused on making its domestic manufacturers the global leaders in EV technology.  

We should embrace a similar vision in which EVs are the dominant sources of American transportation fully integrated into the Smart Grid and thereby reducing our dependence on oil, benefiting the environment, grid stability, and consumers.  The recent news that Toyota and Tesla are investing together to build EVs in the former NUMMI plant in Fremont, California may be the beginning implementation of that vision. That’s good news since it means greener jobs – both white collar and blue collar – and it also means a boost for domestic EV technology.

There is however a greater challenge revealed in the statistic about American SUV purchases.  American consumers appear to be unperturbed by the environmental and economic costs of the Gulf oil spill as demonstrated by their buying behavior.   If they can’t make the connection that choosing gas guzzlers over gas-sipping vehicles increases the risks of more devastating oil spills, then utilities, federal and state governments and regulators, and technology vendors have significant communication challenges ahead in getting consumers to understand the benefits of investments in Smart Grid technologies that optimize grid operations and deliver energy management capabilities into consumer homes.   These are sometimes complex messages that don’t always easily translate into sound bites. 

We need national efforts similar to past public service campaigns that educated everyone about the benefits of seat belts and discouraged littering.   American consumers need to understand that their energy behaviors and choices have consequences that impact their wallets, environment, economy, and energy security.  A good start would be to highlight the benefits of investment in domestic EV technologies and manufacturing and the fact that EVs use pollution-free “Made in America” energy.  Over time, a cohesive and coordinated communications campaign enlightens consumers to the fact that the Smart Grid increases use of clean and renewable Made in America energy and ensures their continued support of Smart Grid investments and programs.