Southern California Edison: Why not keep your options open?

I will be the first to admit that I am not a rocket scientist. But I like to think that makes me more like most of the people who read this blog than the people that I interview for this blog.

I will be the first to admit that I am not a rocket scientist. But I like to think that makes me more like most of the people who read this blog than the people that I interview for this blog.

Controversy, of course, makes for good reading, which made me respond to a recent pitch from Southern California Edison, which was up in arms over some developments in the state of California related to research and testing of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. As reported in this local news story out of Sacramento, support behind the build-out of fueling stations is waning if not outright going up in smoke. As the story reports, Pacific Gas & Electric even turned down $1.5 million in state funds it would have received for building a large retail hydrogen station in San Carlos that would have supported a fleet of cars from Mercedes-Benz. The utility says it is simply a matter of priority, as it focused more on electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Hydrogen is less promising in the short term.

Ed Kjaer, director of electric transportation for Southern California Edison, says it's important for utilities and states to support multiple research and development efforts for multiple types of alternative fuels. "The bottom line is that we have a crisis as a nation. We have to get off imported oil. We have to address greenhouse gasses, and we have to keep reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is a marathon, not a race. We have to stop picking winners and start focusing on near-term, long-term AND mid-term solutions."

Needless to say, SCE IS a proponent of the hydrogen approach and anything that hinges on the existing electrical grid, which Kjaer describes as the country's "one ubiquitous infrastructure." Testing for all sorts of advanced vehicles is supported at its EV Technical Center in Pomona, Calif. As you can see by the photos at the site, the utility isn't trying to pick a winner. It's experimenting with a whole mess load of different designs, and its electric vehicle fleet has logged 12 million "emission-free" miles since it was opened. "The leading car companies are on their sixth or seventh generation of power components," Kjaer said.

Commercial over. What intrigues me about SCE is that is taking a risk -- the sorts of risks that researchers used to make all the time. Testing technology designs and ideas rather than committing to supporting only approaches that guarantee a certain revenue stream. It's something to think about, especially among venture capitalists.

When it comes to alternative energy sources, an investment in hybrid shouldn't mean a bet against another approach. An interest in solar shouldn't mean a bet against wind turbines or wave energy. It should be considered as nothing less than an investment in our future. And in the biggest possible way, we need to hedge all bets.

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