Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2025 Vision of the Future

One sure thing about predictions of the distant future is they will be wrong. A simple search for predictions about the year 2000 from the 1960s will tell you that we all should be driving around in flying cars and have personal servant androids by now. However, regardless of this seemingly fatal failure, predictions can serve to inspire us to create a brighter future, even if we change course a few times along the way. Without such visions to drive innovation, things would move slowly indeed.

Below I present to you a vision of 2025. A future centered on the Smart Garage, how it impacts energy, transportation and you. This vision and the report it kicks off summarizes the results of the Smart Garage Charrette. The event was convened by Rocky Mountain Institute in October of 2008 in Portland, Oregon and included 25 leading organizations.

It's 2025. The world has changed—and the change was driven by what and how we drive. Fossil fuels are loosening their grip on the economy, carbon emissions from our transport and electricity are falling in absolute terms, and a dramatic shift in engineering design has given the devices, buildings, and machinery we use in our daily lives a pervasive emphasis on energy efficiency. Our vehicles are no exception. In 2025 they run, for the most part,on silent electric drivesystems powered by clean electricity.

A typical day might go something like this: after work, you drive home in your plug-in hybrid, pull into the garage, and connect your vehicle to a power cord that connects to your house. Your car and house “shake hands”—the car tells your house the state of its battery, and the house’s energy management system figures out how best to charge your car. The car then spends part of the night recharging on cheap electricity that comes from a new big wind farm. In fact, your car charges in sync with how fast the wind is spinning the turbines—guaranteeing you are only getting “green” electrons. In the morning, you check your home energy dashboard to review the status of your car’s charge, and you happily drive to work in your vehicle, which uses electricity most of the time. If your commute takes a few extra turns, an efficient little biofuel, gasoline, or diesel engine comes on to provide extra range.

You get to work, drive into the parking lot, and plug your car into another electric charging system. It automatically recognizes your car and links to your credit card and your utility account. Your car and utility share information in both directions—how much electricity the battery has or needs, how much it costs (now and perhaps later in the day). Based on the preferences you previously set online, your car and utility decide the best, cheapest, and greenest way to get the energy your mobility requires.

Say it’s a hot summer day, and electricity is in high demand and more expensive. Based on your preferences, the utility and the vehicle converse. The car declines the day’s charging because the price is extremely high. In addition, the utility would prefer to draw power from the car and pay its value back to your credit card. The price is right, so your car, seeing a juicy “carbitrage” opportunity, decides to use its electrical storage to earn you some money. At 5 p.m., you climb into your pleasant, pre-cooled car and drive home mostly on advanced, environmentally-friendly biofuel.

Your cousin, meanwhile, lives in the city and owns a 150-mile-range fully electric vehicle, which can cover almost all of her driving needs. She charges mostly overnight, like you, but her apartment’s garage has set up charging stations. Better, she gets her fuel for free: the building’s garage works with the utility to provide “grid services” from the parked cars to subsidize the free charging—while also enabling the utility to put more wind on its grid. On those weekends when she takes a trip to the ‘burbs for shopping, she’s goes to a big-box retailer that has free fast-charge stations. Her car is charged while she shops and the power comes from the retailer’s rooftop solar array (in fact, due to this array and its efficient design, this store is a “net-zero” energy building). Since the charging service draws her to the store for a set period of time, it is worth it to the retailer to provide free charging. Your cousin is able to drive without paying a cent for energy—unheard of a decade earlier in 2015 when oil spiked at more than $200 a barrel.

Bringing electrified vehicles, advanced net-zero buildings, and a smart renewable grid together in innovative ways to provide clean, cheap mobility and electricity: that is the vision of Smart Garage.



  1. Laura Schewel from the RMI spoke about the Smart Garage project at the Green Living show a few weeks ago. They're looking for partners in the Portland metro region and someone to lead a smart grid association. So far it looks like PSU will serve as the organizing force for smart grid efforts in the region.

  2. Thanks for the Info Libby. I like your blog.

    It will be interesting to how the infrastructure rolls out. RMI, Better Place, Shorepower, Coulomb and others all have ideas. The nice thing is that all you need for most plug-in cars is a standard outlet. So these details can all be worked out as cars are put on the road.

    For the most part, I currently charge at my house and I drive 5 to 6 thousand miles a year that way in my electric truck. So it is possible.

    BTW, I have a series on Oregon power running the 20th through the 27th of this month. I would like to hear your opinion when it is done. It is in your area of expertise.

    And just to be clear for anyone in Penn. that might be reading this, PSU is Portland State U in this context.


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