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Start your engines

Shelly Fuhrman | Sunday, February 19, 2012

Every time I hear the Barenaked Ladies song “If I Had a Million Dollars,” I can’t help but start to make a list of what I would buy or do with it. In the Energy and Climate class I am in this semester, we explored the different “green cars” that are currently available, and I must say that one in particular captured my heart. The Tesla Roadster, an electric car that uses a lithium ion cell battery to store up to 56 kWh of energy, is the sports car of green cars. With the ability to go 245 miles per charge, from 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds, and best of all, get passengers from point A to point B with 0 emissions, its performance is outstanding. There’s just one problem for me: I would need to win the lottery to pay the $110,000 base sticker price.

But do not let this one price deter you from all alternative-power vehicles. Automakers, seeking to make an industry-changing breakthrough, are working on hybrid, electric and alternative fuel vehicles, like biofuel, natural gas and ethanol, to decrease our current dependency on fossil fuels. What’s the difference? A hybrid vehicle, like the Toyota Prius, uses a combination of an internal combustion engine with an electric engine. This combo engine is lighter than traditional internal combustion engines, which gives the hybrid car greater fuel efficiency.

Electric cars, like the Chevrolet Volt, operate off of a completely electric motor and receive power from a rechargeable battery. Totally sold on these sleek new technologies, right? The Prius starting price ranges from $26,400 to $29,990, depending on the model, and the Chevy Volt has a base price at $31,700. Hopefully by the time we graduate (or are in the market for new cars) these prices will have dropped even further, making it more affordable to hop on the bandwagon.

But cars are not the only form of transportation that can go green. Electric buses and trains can be found in many parts of the world including Quebec, Canada, Madrid, Spain and San Francisco, California, while many cities including our own South Bend are making progress in becoming more bike-friendly. Car-sharing is rapidly gaining popularity as well and is available on our campus through the Zipcar program. If you’re 18 or older, you’re eligible for the program, which includes gas, insurance, reserved parking spots, roadside assistance and a mileage limit of 180 miles per day for a modest fee. There are three cars available 24 hours every day of the week.

So why is transportation a central issue for sustainability? The transportation sector accounts for 15 percent of global CO2 emissions, and road transportation alone consumes 28 percent of total US energy use. But reducing this impact is going to require a joint effort between both industry leaders and consumers. Consumers will rely on the industry to provide affordable sustainable options and the industry will rely on consumers to purchase sustainable goods and alter behavior for the better. And here’s the good news: You have an opportunity to see where the industry is headed by attending Green Summit V: The Future of Transportation on Wednesday, Feb. 29 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Stepan Center.

A variety of alternative-fuel and electric vehicles, including the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi iMiev and perhaps even my dream car, the Tesla Roadster, will be on display. A compressed natural gas vehicle, a propane vehicle and a Smart Car will also be revving up the Stepan Center. There will be experts on hand to answer questions about battery technology, charging stations, electric bikes, public transportation and more. Lunch will be served, so no excuses about needing to eat! See you at the Summit! (Don’t forget to register at green.nd.edu)

Email your predicaments to The GreenMan at askthegreenman@gmail.com and let him answer you with a sustainable twist. The GreenMan will be here every other week to provide you with insights you never knew you were missing out on until now.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.