Michigan integrates into things like the grid.” This would reduce business risk and give investors and a better idea how to run their businesses, he said.
Dr. Good responded that the National Academies does not do enough of that. “We have a tendency to look at a piece of the system, but not understand the impact a piece has on the system as a whole. Many times, the piece then fails because we did not properly understand how it would fit into the system,” she said. “We just aren’t very good in this country at doing systems analysis.” The National Academies has done some work on the topic, “but it is fairly academic,” she said. “As far as I remember, most have been anchors for doorways.”
Dr. Wessner agreed that “this country is not very systemically inclined, even in matters of great import, such as defense.” While more should be done, the problem is always making such studies relevant to lawmakers busy with constituents and to Congressional committees, he added. The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies has a “vast range of ongoing work in this area,” Dr. Wessner said.
What distinguishes the STEP board “is that we focus on how to actually deploy and what intermediating institutions are needed to bring public-private partnerships together to facilitate the advance of technology,” he said. “What you heard from MEP and MEDC is the sweet spot of our analysis—how do you push technologies up the learning curve and down the cost curve.” The board also tries to come up with “actionable items” for legislators. “They can’t execute on broad analysis,” he said. “They need very particular things to do.”
Dr. Wessner also explained that this conference is part of a wider study of state and regional policy. The STEP board is looking at best practices in bringing technologies forward. “Needless to say, this is a critical area,” he said, “and one that has national implications.”
To encourage more focus on macro system issues such as the grid and the transportation system, the debate should be framed in terms of national and economic security, Mr. Harris suggested. “President Eisenhower was able to get the national highway system done that way, and we have not evolved a lot since then,” he said. “On national security issues, we are good. And transportation and the grid are clearly national security issues. The longer we kick this ball down the field, the more difficult it is going to be to really change the country and free ourselves of the Middle East.”
Legislation that increases demand will help create the infrastructure, Mr. Alexander said. “As a battery company, I cannot go to the party without the vehicles. We can create the best battery in the world, but without vehicles to put them in what will happen is that this industry will go back overseas and we will have stimulated another country’s industries.”
The government needs to say it will convert half of its fleet and spur buying programs by municipalities, Mr. Alexander said. “We need a national buying program so we can move this technology.” In terms of passenger cars, consumers must see electric vehicles on the road to become interested, he said. “Your neighbor has to have one,” he said. “That is the best source of advertising.