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100m cars will be electric by 2030, says US energy secretary

UP TO 100 million cars on American roads will be electrically-powered or hybrid-electric vehicles by 2030, according to the US under secretary for energy, Dr Kristina Johnson, herself a “third-generation engineer”.

Speaking in Dublin yesterday at the Institute for International and European Affairs, she said this would be one of the measurable outcomes of President Barack Obama’s drive to create a “new clean energy economy”.

She stressed that the US needed to reduce its dependency on foreign oil, as it currently imported $300 billion (€237 billion) worth of petroleum each year – equivalent to $1,000 per person. (Ireland’s oil imports, she said, amounted to €1,000 per person).

Formerly provost of Johns Hopkins University, Dr Johnson said the US consumed 20 per cent of the world’s petroleum.

A third of this was used to fuel its vast car fleet, while 40 per cent was used to provide heat, light and air-conditioning for buildings.

“Our first strategy is to push energy efficiency very hard,” she said, adding that she had been reared on “waste not, want not”.

Savings of more than 30 per cent were possible by changing boilers and windows, and making people more aware of what energy cost. The second objective was to “decarbonise” the electricity generating sector.

“Over the next 10 years, we need to utilise all the technologies that can be developed. The government’s role in funding research and development as well as deployment will be crucial,” she said.

This would involve switching to nuclear, hydro, solar, wind and geothermal power. But given that the US had vast reserves of coal, Dr Johnson said it would have to invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS) if it was to retain coal-fired power stations.

However, she conceded that CCS was “just being demonstrated” and it could take three generations to perfect it.

Solar energy, on the other hand, had already reached “seventh generation” in its development and the key issue now was to “drive down costs”.

She said Ireland and the US faced similar challenges in adapting electricity grids to accommodate offshore wind and other renewable energy sources, and she hoped US companies would build partnerships with Ireland.

Dr Johnson said the US was now being “mapped” to show where geothermal resources were located. But as with wind, there would be a need for more transmission lines to bring power to where it was needed and this could provoke opposition.


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