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Ford asks: What is the future of energy and transportation?

Sponsored post: Cleaner, more connected cars are in sight, but is this an evolution or revolution? Leaders at Ford's EnTransit event explored.

The following is a sponsored story from Ford Motor Co.

Greener. Cleaner. Connected. With an empowered consumer at the hub. This is the transportation future that the companies and organizations attending the Ford EnTransit event contemplate, and one they are striving to make happen.

Last week, Ford Motor Company brought together 70 of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the emerging energy landscape to explore the future of energy and transportation

Influencers from NGOs, utilities, start-ups and established corporations gathered in San Francisco to address the questions: What do we want that future to be? What is the role of the individual and the machine, and how do we enable technology to best serve society?

The gathering was held in a unique venue, the New Black, which provided a modern warehouse-lounge atmosphere. Bare concrete, mixed with steel girders and stenciled slogans on brick walls gave it the gathering vaguely futuristic feeling, which was perfect for the event. No hotel conference rooms here.

If one could sum up the event in one phrase, it would be that this was an event leaning into our energy future. This conversation was about the growing substitution of networked intelligence and improved technologies for the old fossil-fuel economy.

The day kicked off with Mike Tinskey, director of Ford’s Vehicle and Infrastructure program, posing a very basic and profound question to the assembled audience: “Are we in evolutionary or revolutionary times?”

Most agreed we are in a revolutionary period. Tinskey outlined where he and Ford Motor Company see the world going. Technology and evolving customer behavior are driving change, creating a world where cars will be smarter, electrified, and networked. Ford intends to move with the pace of the revolution, and to collaborate with partners to make this happen.

Panel discussions addressed a broad range of questions around the future we are creating. A panel addressing the future of transportation included Tinskey, Professor Dan Kammen of the University of California at Berkeley, and Dr. Sunil Chhaya of the Electric Power Research Institute.

The general consensus was that electric vehicle numbers will continue to grow, and that EVs will eventually be networked to provide optimized balancing services within the electric power grid. Not surprisingly, California —  with 40 percent of the country’s fleet and aggressive adoption policies — is expected to lead the way. The epic recent crash in oil prices elicited relatively little concern, as most felt it was a distraction and a short-term correction to a market with a product in finite supply.

The next panel, moderated by John Gartner of Navigant, included Zipcar Chief Marketing Officer Brian Harrington, CALSTART CEO John Boesel, and Sudipto Aich of Ford’s Silicon Valley office.

The conversation centered around emerging consumer trends and the sharing economy. A few developments became clear. The connected lifestyle of millennials is helping to drive product development and consumption patterns. Sharing of resources is likely to become more prevalent. Devices will increasingly communicate with us and provide feedback, often through our mobile devices.

Seven TED-type presentations followed, with some speakers looking into the near future, and others peering further out, daring us to stretch our imaginations. Five trends emerged with clarity here as well:

· A shift in the concept of what is public transit and what is private may change.

· Bike and scooter and car-sharing networks are growing more pervasive and convenient.

· Solar companies are no longer just the folks who put panels on your rooftop — they intend to become energy service companies. They are now offering batteries to complement their solar offerings, and someday may have more interaction with your electric vehicle as well.

· The driverless car is probably just a matter of time.

· New homes will eventually be net zero and high-efficient as a matter of course, and we will know the operating costs of a house the same way we think about miles per gallon for cars today.

Finally, the entire network of assets, whether electric scooters, charging stations, or EVs and solar panels, will be networked. At the hub of this? The individual’s phone, which will serve as a mobile platform for individual connectivity to a greater network while offering control over a universe of devices.

The EnTransit gathering also included an Immersion Hour where participants could experience different technologies. These included the Ford Fiesta with EcoBoost (43 highway mpg), the electric Focus and Fusion Energi. Ford’s self-parking feature impressed those who tried it. Some participants took rides around the block on the Ford-labeled electric bike by Pedego.

Meanwhile, others donned virtual reality glasses for the simulated experience of motoring in Ford vehicles at various locations around the world. Sierra Club and Zipcar reps discussed their roles and relationships in the emerging energy future.

Ford’s Futurist, Sheryl Connelly, wrapped up the event by commenting that we live in uncertain times, in the context of rapidly changing behavior and technologies. Her message to those assembled was simple: the best way to cope with an uncertain future is to create it. Many talented individuals were gathered in San Francisco this past week to discuss just that.

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