The Fuse

The Myth of Energy Independence: Looking Back at Andrew Grove’s Advocacy

by Matt Piotrowski | March 23, 2016

Andrew Grove, an early advocate of electric vehicles and former legendary CEO of chipmaker Intel, died this past week. Over the past decade, the tech mogul emerged as a prominent voice in dispelling the myth of energy independence and repeatedly urging reforms in transportation, particularly the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). His main argument was that in an interconnected global economy, the U.S. cannot become “independent” with regards to energy given that oil supply disruptions anywhere throughout the world ultimately impact oil prices everywhere, and by extension, the U.S. economy. To reduce this vulnerability, Grove said, diversity in the transportation sector was needed and this could be achieved by increasing use of electricity in cars and trucks. He urged the U.S. to rapidly make this transition because of the economy’s vulnerability to the unstable oil markets. While electric vehicle sales have risen steadily throughout the years, Grove’s vision has yet to be realized. EVs are unfortunately still only a small market and oil fuels more than 90 percent of the transportation sector.

To reduce vulnerability to unstable oil markets, Grove said, diversity in the transportation sector was needed and this could be achieved by increasing use of electricity in cars and trucks. He urged the U.S. to rapidly make this transition.

As part of his push to educate the public, policymakers, and corporate executives about these issues, he gave interviews, made speeches, and penned a number of editorials. In 2008, when the U.S. was dealing with an oil market shock as prices soared to $147 per barrel, he wrote widely discussed pieces for The American and The Washington Post (the links are here and here).

Below are some key takeaways from the two:

  • “The availability of petroleum may well determine whether an economy grows or declines.”
  • “Invariably, the actions that are needed to change course at such times are painful. Leaders rarely appreciate the gravity of their situation, and even when they do, they are loathe to take appropriate action.”
  • “After Nixon, many presidents set similar goals for energy independence. Every target was missed.”
  • “We live in a world where just about everything—from a hairdryer to the Internet—runs on electricity. A big exception is the transportation sector.”
  • “To start with, the U.S. government should lead the way by requiring that a growing percentage of new cars be built with dual-fuel capability.
  • “A task of this magnitude requires changes in the behavior of millions of consumers.”
  • “Energy independence is the wrong goal.”

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