Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dazed and Confused in Santa Monica?

Santa Monica AltFuel Expo was by all standard measure an overwhelming success. Thousands packed the hangar to meander through exhibits by companies large and small, trade groups, government agencies and advocacy organizations. Under one roof, all the alt fuels were represented, from hydrogen to biofuels and electricity to (using less) gasoline.

Panels and keynote addresses were well attended. Each alternative put its best face forward. Not all speakers adhered to the organizers call not to bash the other alternatives. Rock 'n roller and ex-CIA chief Jim Woolsey led the renegades. His presentation on the national security need to promote biofuels and plug-ins did not pull any punches on the problems and expense of the hydrogen project. He waved one of Felix Kramer of CalCars' simple $10 110 volt dongles to demonstrate the infrastructure required for plug-ins. Hydrogen booster Edwin Black reportedly walked out. [CORRECTION 12/15/06 Seems I was wrong about that. As the next batter up, Mr. Black was simply getting into the on deck circle.)

Black's presentation later was an amusing and rousing call for radical changes to move away from petroleum, calling consumers to task for continuing to buy gasoline cars. He remained "fuel-neutral," supporting electrics as part of the solution, but his focus is elsewhere. He repeatedly praised Honda's "vision," a pathway via CNG (Civic GX) to hydrogen (FCV). Why he should take seriously the utopian "Home Energy Station" given Honda dribbling out a few thousand Civic GXs and the slow to market PHIL home unit is beyond me.

But what did the show mean to the thousands looking for some direction and options? Did John and Jane Q Public leave the hanger more or less confused? If the guy in this LA Times story who left believing he'd be converting his truck to hydrogen power is any indication, bamboozlement continues apace.

I can't help feel the event should have held a debate. How would ethanol answer the assault on corn, hydrogen on its inefficiency and expense, electric on the grid and recharge times, etc. The gloves need to come off in a public context.