Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - November 18, 2011

Positively Green

Is there life after oil?

by Iris Harrell

I recently read Mark Kurlansky's book, "SALT: A World History." As salt became used for keeping food from spoiling, longer trips with large numbers of people could be taken without the threat of starvation. Countries that had more salt and could produce and sell it became the center of the trading universe. Whole empires rose because they had gobs of salt.

Doesn't that sound like what is currently happening today, except instead of salt, we are talking about OIL? I hope I live long enough to read the history book that explains why oil was no longer what made the world go round. Oil possession may soon no longer be what wars are fought over.

We can either transition from oil to alternative energy in a proactive manner, or we can use every last bit of oil that we can find in the ground and then have our world come to a screeching halt. The latter just doesn't sound like the way to move forward for the next generations. If we are really going to leave our children a world that's better off than what we found, we really need to wean ourselves off of this oil addiction. And to do that we need a whole new infrastructure made up of electric charging stations instead of gas stations.

One of the primary ways to live the "post-oil" dream is to get our private vehicles filled up with something other than gas. The cleanest form of alternative-energy transportation is electric cars and trucks. Today more than 25 percent of all cars and light trucks on the road worldwide are in the U.S. "More oil is consumed by internal-combustion engines used in transportation than in any other human activity," according to a story in the Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 10, 2011.

There are great all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars available with 100-300-mile ranges between charges. Nissan, and our local manufacturer Tesla, are producing all-electric vehicles while Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota have plug-in hybrids available now with all-electrics coming soon.

The federal government is now encouraging installation of electric charging stations in local communities at no cost to the applicant. And if you install a charging station on your commercial property, it shows up on GPS maps so electric car owners will know where they can park and get a charge with their handy credit card. Every shopping center and every nationwide business chain (such as Denny's or Applebee's) should be flooding the government for requests to have charging stations put in their parking lots. City planners are anticipating a traffic jam of plug-ins waiting to be charged. From Seattle to Boston progressive planners are installing thousands of charging stations.

What are the travelers going to do during the half hour or more while their car is charging? They are going to eat or shop or do both, and what better news can that be for the American economy? And the cost of charging your car at a charging station is $2 an hour and depending on the charge rate, that hour could get you another 100 miles or so down the road. What a bargain!

The other big consideration is that private car ownership is the biggest source of rising energy consumption for transportation. If more high-speed rail existed in our country, there would be fewer cars on the road and fewer traffic accidents. Is it really un-American to get in a vehicle that is carrying more than one or two persons?

We know that the oil addiction we've been living with is causing national security issues whenever there is a threat of supply disruption. We know that oil is a limited resource and will be competed for more fiercely with the rise of emerging nations such as China, India and Brazil. We also know that oil is one of the key contributors to global warming.

So what are we doing about cutting our own oil consumption? We live in a progressive community that is known for looking ahead and creating new ways of living. After all, we are Silicon Valley — home of the Internet and the iPad.

The transition away from oil for energy is already happening. I, for one, am evaluating which electric car to get in line for. I want to speed up the writing of that book we have all been waiting for ... "Life After Oil."

Iris Harrell is CEO and president of Harrell Remodeling, Inc. in Mountain View (www.harrell-remodeling.com). She can be reached at 650-230-2900 or irish@harrell-remodeling.com.

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