I’m not sure where this reference ranks on the dorky/kitschy/ironic-retro-cool spectrum just now, but in any case I have to confess that as a kid in the late 1970s I watched quite a bit of "The Price is Right," that cavalcade of retail-price estimation hosted for decades by Bob Barker. (I remember being particularly tickled as a preschooler by the game where this Swiss alpine cut-out figure climbed a mountain and often eventually tumbled off the cliff at the top based on how badly the price of various groceries was estimated – which among other things was my introduction to the concept of yodeling and to Swiss culture generally. But I digress.)
Anyway, like Daryl Hannah in "Splash," my young mind fixated on certain phrases, bits of consumer exotica that had no analog in my day-to-day life on a military base in smalltown eastern Canada. One such phrase was “California emissions.” Every “NEW CAR!” unveiled on "The Price is Right" came with a laundry list of features breathlessly intoned by the announcer, and the list inevitably ended with “California emissions.” I had no idea what emissions were and only the vaguest sense of where California was, but it sounded exciting nonetheless.
As I’d eventually learn, California emissions were an essential but deeply glamourless feature of every car sold in the state, owing to the fact that California’s government started regulating the pollutants coughing out exhaust pipes in the late 1960s, far ahead of the rest of the U.S. (and much of the world). Fuel injection and catalytic converters, among other now-common emissions-scrubbing automobile features, began as responses to California emissions standards.
I embarked on this trip down game-show memory lane when I read the other day about another innovation from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) with potentially far-reaching consequences. Last week, CARB approved new Advanced Clean Cars rules that strongly favor the sale of zero-emissions electric vehicles. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, the new regime could mean one in seven cars sold in California will be an EV by 2025.
This is good news for electric car fans and clean-air enthusiasts alike, but its impact could be greater still. One of the most truly revolutionary sectors in the whole cleantech field is the smart grid – that merger of renewable energy, smart appliances and electric cars that promises to realign the making and use of electricity in the same way (and with some of the same tools) the Internet reinvented telecommunications.
One of the big caveats on smart grids, though, was the scale of the transformation. If power production, energy meters, appliances and cars all needed dramatic reconfigurations to get to the wild, future-tense compound benefits of the smart grid, then who was going to coordinate the shift? Who would jump first? California’s Advanced Clean Cars rules might well have just given the automotive industry a big shove toward smart grids.
Not that California’s the only jurisdiction where we’re seeing movement. In fact, sunny California may be beaten to the pole position in the smart-grid race by windswept Denmark – particularly the tiny island of Børnholm, where the European Union has embarked on recent months on the most ambitious smart grid demo anywhere.
For full details on the project – EcoGrid EU, officially – you can check out the project website or this post at the IBM Research blog. Or, if you’d like a more entertaining and deeply Danish illustration of how it’ll work, watch the video below, a scale model of the EcoGrid in Lego form:
California’s still more than a decade from one-in-seven EV penetration and the time horizons for amping up EcoGrid from island to continental scale are at least as long, so the smart grid remains a future-tense thing – even more exotic than California emissions were to a kid staring up at the tube from a carpet in New Brunswick. But as the catalytic converter in my trusty 2003 Civic attests, whatever’s under the hood in California often winds up driving everyone’s car eventually.
To reminisce about the golden age of game shows 140 characters at a time, follow me on Twitter: @theturner.