Wall Street Journal Experts: What’s Next for Alternative Fuel Vehicles

May 27, 2014

What’s Next for Alternative Fuel Vehicles

3:42 pm ET
May 22, 2014

TODD MYERS: Looking ahead 10 years, will electric, natural gas or hydrogen vehicles have made significant inroads in the car market?

Each of these technologies is on a different path.

Electric cars are on a path similar to technologies like smartphones. Early adopters pay high costs–the Tesla costs about $90,000–which helps develop improvements, reduce price and take the technology to a mass audience. Even the Nissan Leaf costs more than twice as much as the comparable gas-powered Nissan Versa. Prices are, however, coming down and will continue to over the next decade.

This is a good thing. Not only are electric cars better for the environment (overlooked is the fact that they don’t need oil, meaning fewer oil leaks that can pollute runoff water), but they are fast and responsive. They are simply fun to drive.

Natural-gas power makes sense for fleets, but the wider market is likely to be more limited. Natural-gas prices will probably stay low making them a good choice for city buses and companies that can install filling stations for many vehicles. Beyond that, however, it may be difficult to market these vehicles to a wider audience.

Hydrogen technology probably will not emerge as a primary vehicle technology. It may, however, show up in other ways. The Pacific Northwest National Labs has developed a hydrogen-powered generator that can be installed on long-haul trucks as a source of electricity when the vehicle is stopped during a layover.

Ironically, hydrogen was once the favored technology. California even promised to create a “Hydrogen Highway” with 200 filling stations by 2010. When 2010 rolled around, however, they had fewer than two dozen and most were private filling stations unavailable to the public.

Diversity is a good thing. There are few one-size-fits-all solutions in this world. The more options, the more opportunity to find custom solutions and competition among them drives innovation.

Todd Myers (@WAPolicyGreen) is environmental director at the Washington Policy Center in Seattle and author of “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment.” He also serves on the Washington State Salmon Recovery Council.

Read the article on WSJ's website here.